West Yorkshire Police host dangerous dogs conference amid "rising public concern"

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The question of how to best manage dangerous dogs was the focus of a conference hosted by West Yorkshire Police today.

More than 400 people in West Yorkshire were admitted to hospital with dog bites between March 2015 and January 2016.

And people living in the most deprived areas of England are three times more likely to be admitted with dog bites.

It is figures like these that prompted the conference, which sought to raise awareness about dog attacks and the impact upon victims.

As the force grapples with budget cuts and rising demand for services, there is also concern that legislation designed to protect people from harm could be undermined.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom said: "Over recent years the issue of dogs acting in a dangerous or anti-social manner has been of rising public concern.

"Dogs seized by the police fall largely within two categories; those that are seized due to their actions and those that are suspected of being a prohibited type within the confines of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 - however, there are dogs that will crossover between both categories.

"Hosting today's seminar is important in allowing partner agencies to showcase good practice and share information as to how the changes in legislation in recent years can be used to manage dangerous dogs." 

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Police data shows that the number of banned dogs being seized in West Yorkshire fell from 200 in 2014 to 164 in 2015.

Partial figures for 2016 show 66 such dogs had been seized in the year up to the end of September, suggesting that the total for the full year would continue that trend.

At the same time, the number of offences recorded under the Dangerous Dogs Act has steadily risen.

There were 272 offences in 2014, 580 in 2015 and 722 in the first nine months of 2016.

The force said all of the dogs seized were believed to be Pit Bull Terriers prior to assessment but 41 per cent of the dogs seized during those three years were found not to be Pit Bulls and were returned to their owners.

A similar number of seized dogs were put down and the remaining 20 per cent were made subject to contingent destruction orders, which require the owner to follow certain conditions.

Mr Milsom said: "We are aware there are differing opinions regarding the seizure of dogs and the effectiveness of the legislation, which is why it is important to bring together practitioners to discuss their work and to provide advice to legislators if further improvements could be made.

"It should be borne in mind that the impact of a dog attack can have a serious physical and mental lifelong impact on a person."

West Yorkshire Police has introduced the role of a full time dog legislation officer to work with the owners of dogs that come into contact with the police and the wider public.

But the force is clear that a co-ordinated approach to dangerous dogs is needed across the public and charity sectors.

Mr Milsom said: "At a time where significant financial cuts continue to impact the public sector, we feel it is important to highlight this issue and continue improving co-operation across all agencies, including educating owners and, where appropriate, carrying out enforcement activities."

Representatives from local authorities, the RSPCA and the Dogs Trust are among those attending the event at the police's Carr Gate Complex at Wakefield.

Key speakers throughout the day including Merseyside and Cheshire Constabularies, Royal Mail, the National Health Service and Guide Dogs and Sergeant Stewart Dunderdale, the West Yorkshire Police force lead on dangerous dogs.

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