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Talking Point: Do our dog laws have enough bite?

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Two recent high profile cases in Leeds have made some people question whether current legislation surrounding the ownership of dogs and what happens when they attack people is adequate.

As reported by the Yorkshire Evening Post on June 14, 46-year-old Jane Chippendale (pictured, right) was attacked by three bull terriers whilst walking her own dog - the owner of the dogs stood by while the attack took place.

In June, Lee Horner, 34, was convicted of possessing prohibited dogs contrary to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 at Leeds Crown Court after his dogs tragically mauled to death his pregnant partner Emma Bennett, 27, a mother of four from Gipton.

Nationally, vicious - sometimes fatal - dog attacks are never far from the headlines. So, are current laws fit for purpose in terms of preventing attacks and, when they do occur, dealing with those responsible?

Dog rescuer Brian Wheelhouse, 53, who runs Whitehall Dog Rescue, perhaps knows more than most about the issues surrounding the subject and he is clear where the blame lies.

“In my view, I think people should have to have licenses if they want to keep a dog, just as they do for cars. I think if you are going to take on one of the more powerful breeds of dog, then we have a responsibility to make sure they have what it takes to look after them.

“The licences should not be cheap either, otherwise it would totally defeat the point of having them. They should be about £300, or just above the cost of having to microchip and neuter your dog and vaccinate it.

“I think vets should be involved and so if people can go to their vets and get a certificate to prove they have neutered, microchipped and vaccinated their dogs, all of which costs about £250, then they would not have to get a licence because that shows they are being responsible.”

Brian is clear about what needs to be done to solve Britain’s dog problem.

“If another dog was not born in this country for the next 10 years it would be too soon. We’re overrun with them and the problem is people take them on and then later realise they don’t want them or just can’t handle them.”

Earlier this month he rescued a blind Japanese Japanese Akita named Keiko, which had been neglected by its owners so that it had gone blind, it was then left tied to a lamppost until dog wardens picked it up to be destroyed.

Brian said: “The dog had a preventable eye condition which can be treated with drops but its owners left it until it was too late. It was then tied to lamppost and left. Can you imagine how that must feel for a blind animal? Then it was picked up and due to be put down. Staff at the centre told me about the dog and I agreed to take it on.”

And, he’s changed the dog’s life forever, giving it a new home.

“Every times I get her outside, it humbles me. To see her now you wouldn’t believe how happy he is. He runs about and is playful and happy, he will probably just live with us at the centre from now on. There’s a video of him on our website.”

“There’s an awful lot of people who have dangerous dogs and they really shouldn’t - a lot of people get them purely because they are a status symbol. I get a lot of lads aged 18-25 wanting to get rid of their Staffordshire bull terriers. All those people who get a dog and then let it roam the streets or just keep it chained up so it has a thoroughly miserable existence should not have dogs.

“Another thing I think should happen is dogs which are prone to biting should be muzzled in public. There’s nothing wrong with a muzzle and it’s a simple choice, the dog’s life or a muzzle. It would also put other people at ease around them.

“Whenever I hear about these dog attacks or someone being killed I do feel sorry for the person involved but I also feel sorry for the dog. If you went to the zoo for the day and the zoo keeper had let all the tigers out and one of them attacked someone, it would be wrong to say it was the tiger’s fault - the blame lies with the zoo keeper. It’s the same with dogs. Owners have to take responsibility.

“There are dogs being destroyed every single day and a lot of them are good dogs which have been mistreated by people.”

Brian took his first dog in back in 1992. A former mechanic with three garages in Leeds, he heard a story about a loyal dog who had returned to its owner’s home only to find it burned down, it’s owner dead. The little Jack Russell remained loyal and sat shivering on its old doorstep.

When the dog wardens were called in and its story was publicised, kennel managers received a flood of calls about the dog, including one from Brian.

“I didn’t get that dog but they told me they had lots of others and I ended up taking a black Labrador home. I placed an ad in the YEP and within days I’d re-homed it.”

He returned to the kennels and rescued more dogs, re-homing each. Over the years, he has come across some truly horrendous cases, including two puppies found dumped on a tip in Belle Isle, Leeds - one had its front legs broken in 12 places, it’s loyal brother staying by its side.

Vets recommended it be put to sleep but Brian found one willing to mend its legs and it was successfully re-homed with its brother.

Another dog had massive internal problems after swallowing string, which then rotted - the vets bill to put it right topped £12,000.

He once took 17 dogs home on Christmas Eve and found them all new homes by the new year.

Brian added: “I have to put blinkers on when I go to the kennels because I can’t rescue them all.”

Find out more at: www.whitehalldogrescue.comGreg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, said: “The dog attacks on Jane Chippendale and Emma Bennett were horrific and deeply tragic, even more so in Emma’s case as she died from her injuries.

“What was clear in both cases was the irresponsible attitude of the dog owners. What both cases have showed is that some breeds of dog will attack when they are not controlled properly, and therefore the primary responsibility for criminal negligence must rest with careless owners.

“The Coalition agreement was right to set out its aim to target irresponsible owners and indeed Government has followed through with a number of measures. From 2016 all dogs will have to be micro chipped- this will ensure dogs who attack ordinary members of the public can be traced to their owners, and this should incentivise more responsible ownership. Criminal liability for dog attacks will extend to all private places, including the dog owner’s home, and this will provide better protection for postal workers, midwives, utility workers and others. Community Protection Notices can be imposed on dog owners requiring them to take steps to better control their dogs and train them to behave better.

“I hope such measures will deter potentially irresponsible dog owners and will reduce the likelihood of attacks that destroy lives”.

Councillor Mark Dobson, executive member for cleaner, safer and stronger communities in Leeds (pictured above), said: “Being a dog owner is a big responsibility and we encourage people to take that seriously or face the consequences. We’ll work with the police to enforce the dangerous dog act.

“As microchipping becomes compulsory in 2016, we’ll also continue our work with The Dogs Trust to ensure that people get their dogs chipped while using this as an opportunity for ongoing education and support. With the dangerous dog act being strengthened and our existing dog control orders we have a range of tools to take action against the minority of people who fail to uphold their end of the bargain when they take on a dog.”

Find out more about Brian’s centre at: www.whitehalldogrescue.com

 

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