Calls for change in law as figures reveal five dog attacks every week in Leeds

Attacks by dangerously out of control dogs are on the rise in Leeds and West Yorkshire, new figures have revealed. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Attacks by dangerously out of control dogs are on the rise in Leeds and West Yorkshire, new figures have revealed. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

As many as five dog attacks happened in Leeds every week last year, with a baby among those injured.

An investigation by the YEP found police recorded a total of 273 incidents of people or assistance dogs being injured by dangerously out of control dogs during 2016.

The RSPCA is campaigning against breed specific legislation (BSL) which banned Pit Bulls.

The RSPCA is campaigning against breed specific legislation (BSL) which banned Pit Bulls.

They were among 794 incidents involving at least one injury which were reported to West Yorkshire Police that year – a 271 per cent increase in incidents compared to 2014.

West Yorkshire Police said the rise coincides with changes in legislation and a wider awareness of the issues.

But the RSPCA said the trend was in line with hospital admissions for dog bites which have continued to rise, despite the banning of certain breeds through the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991.

NHS Digital figures show the number in England rose from 6,836 in 2014/15 to 7,673 in 2015/16, with the West Yorkshire total rising from 498 to 592 over the same period.

In addition to educating the public, we also believe new measures are needed to place more responsibility on owners.

Laura-Jane Muscroft, education and community officer at Dogs Trust Leeds

Laura-Jane Muscroft, an education and community officer at Dogs Trust in Leeds, said the charity was “deeply concerned” by the rising number of attacks. “Many of these bites are preventable, and we believe educating people about dog safety, as well as helping dog owners learn how to read the signs that their dog may be feeling uncomfortable or scared, is the first step to preventing such incidents,” she said. “In addition to educating the public, we also believe new measures are needed to place more responsibility on owners.”

The charity’s calls for the current law to be replaced were backed by the RSPCA.

Its dog welfare expert, Dr Samantha Gaines, said: “It is very difficult to comment on the [police] figures as what appears to be quite a jump in incidents could be explained by other factors such as a change in reporting, not just an increase in dog bites.

“However, in general the number of people seeking hospital treatment does tend to increase year on year despite breed specific legislation (BSL) having been in place for nearly 26 years. This is one of the reasons why we believe BSL is ineffective in protecting public safety.”

Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA dog welfare expert.

Dr Samantha Gaines, RSPCA dog welfare expert.

Where a breed of dog responsible was recorded, only six of the 796 West Yorkshire incidents last year involved a banned breed.

In those cases, the dogs were described as being Pit Bull Terrier or Pit Bull type.

Dr Gaines said: “As well as unfairly punishing dogs for the way they look and seriously compromising dog welfare, BSL also lulls the public into a false sense of security that only these four types of dogs are dangerous.”

During 2016, there were 259 incidents in Leeds where people were injured and a further 14 where assistance dogs were injured.

Of those involving people, approximately one in five of the victims was a child with at least one victim being less than 12 months old.

In the last five months, Dogs Trust said it took 142 calls nationally from parents wanting to give up their dog because their child did not know how to interact safely with it.

This may be an indicator of the “rising public concern” surrounding dog attacks which prompted West Yorkshire Police to appoint a full-time dog legislation officer.

The force also hosted a dangerous dogs seminar in February looking at how councils, charities and other bodies could tackle the issue together.

Sergeant Stewart Dunderdale, who works in the force’s dog unit, said: “We are aware of the impact a dog attack can have. This is not only the physical injuries, but the psychological impact on a person which can often last many years after the event.

“We will continue to work with our partners to safeguard the public and promote responsible dog ownership, and where necessary we will take enforcement action.”

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said the current law “ensures tough prison sentences for owners who do not control their dogs, and gives police and local authorities power to intervene early and require owners to attend dog training classes or muzzle their dog in public”.

He added that BSL was crucial to help deal with the heightened risk that some breeds posed.

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