The number of dangerous dogs seized in West Yorkshire has trebled in three years, prompting police to invest in new kennels to cope with demand.
West Yorkshire Police took 253 dangerous dogs off the streets in 2014 to be held in kennels while their owners go through the courts, compared to 145 the previous year and just 89 in 2011.
The extra capacity was introduced by the force last year after the Dangerous Dogs Act was amended to cover offences that take place on private property. Previously a dog could only be seized if it was dangerously out of control in a public space.
But numbers of dangerous dogs seized have been increasing since 2007 due to a change in approach by police and increased awareness of the problem sparked by high-profile tragedies.
Sergeant Stewart Dunderdale of West Yorkshire Police’s Dog Section, said: “We treat all reports involving dogs behaving in a dangerous manner extremely seriously.
“Forming part of our commitment to protect members of the public from any potentially dangerous dogs we have increased our kennel capacity from 50 to 70 in the last year.
“This is to accommodate the increasing amount of dogs we are seizing while owners are in the process of being prosecuted.
“Over recent years we have seen an increase in the amount of dogs we are seizing. This is in part down to new legislation meaning owners can now be prosecuted if their dog attacks someone on private as well as public land.
“There is also an increased understanding amongst the general public of issues around dangerous dogs following a number of high-profile incidents that have been featured prominently in the media.”
One of the most high-profile national cases was that of five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson, killed by a pitbull in 2007 in St Helens.
Last July, a Leeds man whose pregnant partner was killed by their two pit bull-type dogs in a “truly shocking, tragic and disturbing episode” avoided a custodial sentence.
Mother-of-four Emma Bennett was attacked by dogs called Dollar and Bella at her home in December 2013.
Lee Horner was sentenced at Leeds Magistrates’ Court after admitting owning dogs prohibited by the Dangerous Dogs Act. He was given a community order and told to do 280 hours of unpaid work.
Freedom of Information Act figures show there were 95 dangerous dogs seized by West Yorkshire Police in 2010, 89 in 2011, 128 in 2012, 145 in 2013 and 253 in 2014.
The number of stray dogs seized declined slightly during this period, though responsibility for this is now taken by local councils rather than the police.
Since a change in the law last May meant owners can be prosecuted for attacks on private property, West Yorkshire Police has recorded a total of 169 dangerous dog offences in total.
Of these, the only incident involving a ‘private place’ occurred on 22 May on South Road, Cullingworth, Bingley, when two girls aged six and four were attacked by an Akita-type dog at a neighbour’s property.
They sustained bite injuries to their arms, legs, back, neck and head and needed hospital treatment.
According to police: “With the agreement of the complainant’s mother and the owner of the dog the animal was destroyed shortly after the incident.”
Changes last year to the Dangerous Dog Act also made it an offence for a dog to attack a guide dog or hearing dog. The maximum sentence for allowing a dog to attack someone was increased from two to 15 years for a fatal injury and up to three years if a guide dog is attacked.
Further changes coming into effect next month mean a dog can be returned to its owner before court proceedings are complete, if it is neutered, microchipped and insured.
Under existing laws, it is illegal to own a Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Braziliero, though individual dogs can be exempted if they are considered not to be dangerous.