What is Breed Specific Legislation in the UK?

 

The Dangerous Dogs Act passed into law on 12 August 1991 and section 1 details Breed Specific Legislation.  It became illegal in the UK to own four breeds of dog - the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Braziliero and also cross breeds of these types of dogs.  Breed Specific Legislation was rushed in and a spokesman at the time was quoted as saying “The law was passed in a few days, as a piece of emergency legislation. It's considered all over the world to be possibly the worst piece of legislation that's ever been passed”.  Since 1991 Breed Specific Legislation has devastated many families as they have either had to fight through the courts to get their family pet back or, devastatingly, have lost their case and they beloved family pet has been put to sleep, in most cases, simply because of how they look.

 

How is it decided a dog is a banned breed? (Also known as Typing)

 

A Dog Legislation Officer will examine a dog and take measurements, they will also assess the dog for temperament.

 

More information can be found in the DEFRA Guide for Enforcers (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69263/dogs-guide-enforcers.pdf)

 

What is a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO)?

 

Every police service should have a trained DLO – if they do not have a DLO they should have procedures in place to gain access to a police DLO in order to facilitate this guidance. The DLO should be trained in depth in all dog-related legislation and have excellent knowledge of the identification of the prohibited types.  Officers are quite often dual-skilled and DEFRA advise that experience has shown that this position is best suited to an operational dog handler or an operational officer who has had experience in this field.  They should also have good communication skills to engage with owners and the public.

 

How is a dog seized and what should I do if my dog is seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act?

 

Your dog could be seized if it is perceived to be dangerously out of control or if it is suspected of being a banned breed or type of dog.

 

Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act relates to a dog that is deemed to be dangerously out of control.  If your dog is deemed to be a banned type of dog you could be charged with owning  a banned type of dog under section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act - Criminal, or dealt with under section 4b – Civil.  Under section 1 you may be entitled to legal aid to cover your costs, under section 4b you will not get legal aid and will need to cover the costs yourself. 

 

Dogs can be seized in different ways.  Sometimes a member of the public will report a dog to the police, sometimes the police might see a dog out in public in the course of their normal work and suspect it is a banned breed and seize it.  The police can seize a dog in a public place without a warrant if it is suspected of being a banned breed.  The police can seize a dog from its home if they have a warrant.  If they don’t have a warrant and ask you to ‘bring your dog outside so they can have a look at it’ your dog is considered to be in a public place as soon as it leaves the house.  If your dog is seized DO NOT sign anything and contact a solicitor.  The police can ask an owner to sign a document when the dog is seized without fully explaining the consequences and if signed it gives the police permission to take the dog away and have it put to sleep immediately.

 

What happens next?

 

The dog will be taken to police kennels and assessed by a DLO and your dog will either be released as not type or certified as type and you will need to go through a court process to get your dog back.

 

How does this work?

 

You will receive a date to attend a Magistrates Court.  It is your responsibility to prove that your dog is not a banned type.  If you can prove that your dog is not a banned type the court will order your dog to be returned to you.  If you are unable to prove your dog is not a banned type, or plead guilty, you can be convicted of a crime.  You could be given an unlimited fine or sent to prison for up to six months, sometimes both, for having a banned type of dog and your dog can be destroyed.

The court could decide that your dog is a banned type but if they think your dog is not a danger to the public they may put it on the Index of Exempted Dogs and allow you to keep it.  You will be given a certificate of exemption that is valid for the life of your dog.  Your dog must be neutered, microchipped and kept on a lead and muzzled at all times when in public.  Your dog must also be kept in a secure place so that it can’t escape.  The dog’s owner must take out insurance against the dog injuring other people, be aged over 16, show the Certificate of Exemption when asked by a council dog warden or police officer at the time it is requested within 5 days.  You must let the Index of Exempted Dogs know if you move house and change address or if your dog dies.

 

What happens to my dog during the court process?

 

Your dog will be held in secure police kennels in an undisclosed location. You can also apply for your dog to be allowed home under the Interim Exemption Scheme as from 3rd March 2015 under Statutory Instrument No. 138 in England and Wales  – this is also known as ‘dog bail’.  This allows your dog to be at home while you go through the exemption process.

 

Further information can be found on the following links:

 

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1991/65/contents

 

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – Guide for Enforcers:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/69263/dogs-guide-enforcers.pdf

 

Statutory Instrument No 138:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/138/pdfs/uksi_20150138_en.pdf

ABOUT BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION

"I retained the services of James Parry from the solicitors Parry, Welch and Lacey and eventually I was summoned to attend court on 15/10/2015, six months after Oggi had been seized." Brian, Oggie's owner.

"There were many court appearances, my partner and I were bailed each time, owning Darcie was a crime in the eyes of the law. Many times we thought we would never get her home, it took 10 months of phone calls, court, solicitors, advisors and stress!"

Rachael, Darcie's owner.

Remember: If your dog is seized, do not sign anything

 

When owning & looking after a dog, as well as

enjoying their company, there is a responsibility to

give them the appropriate care they need. This is outlined in the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs. Failure to meet the dog’s welfare needs or cause it unnecessary suffering, can result in prosecution under the Act.

 

The Code is broken down into 5 sections as follows:

 

Section 1: The need for a Suitable Environment

 

Section 2: The needs for a Suitable Diet

 

Section 3: The need to be able to Exhibit Normal Behaviour Patterns

 

Section 4: The need it has to be Housed With, or Apart From, Other Animals

 

Section 5: The need to be Protected from Pain, Suffering, Injury and Disease

 

Below is a brief outline of each section, for the full Code of Practice please see: www.gov.uk/government/publications/code-of-practice-for-the-welfare-of-dogs;

Section 1: The need for a Suitable Environment

Your dog needs a safe environment to live in where it is protected from hazards and things that could frighten them. It should be in a dry, draught free, comfortable place. It should not be cold or damp as this could cause suffering. Your dog should have access to a suitable toilet area away from where it sleeps. It should be a large enough to ensure there is a comfortable area for it to rest with suitable ventilation and temperature control, to make sure it doesn’t become too hot or cold. If your dog lives outside then it must be checked regularly to ensure it isn’t in any danger.

 

Section 2: The needs for a Suitable Diet

 

Your dog should always have access to water to prevent them getting distressed or ill. It also needs a well-balanced diet in order to stay fit and healthy. Their diet should be suitable for its individual needs to maintain a stable weight that is appropriate for its age, sex, breed, level of activity and its state of health. You should feed them at least once a day unless otherwise advised by your vet. If you need to change your dogs diet then it should be done gradually over several days. You should also be aware that any change in the amount your dog eats or drinks could be a sign of illness and you should seek attention from your vet. It is not recommended to feed your dog shortly before, or after, strenuous exercise.

 

Section 3: The need to be able to Exhibit Normal Behaviour Patterns

 

Most dogs are playful, sociable animals. They enjoy playing with toys, people and some with other dogs. It is important for them to play so they can learn to interact with people & other dogs. To prevent them from becoming bored or distressed you should make sure they have enough to do. Your dog should have access to safe toys and objects suitable for it to chew and play with. Your dog should have regular exercise & opportunities to play, but also get undisturbed rest when they need to. You should know your dogs behaviour when it is fit and healthy, so if this changes you can consult your vet as your dog could be ill, bored or injured. All dogs should be trained to be well behaved, ideally from a young age. Avoid harsh, painful or frightening training methods and use positive reward-based training.

 

 

Section 4: The need it has to be Housed With, or Apart From, Other Animals

 

Dogs enjoy company and are sociable animals. Most dogs don’t like to be left alone and could suffer if left for long periods of time without company. Some will become distressed if left alone, even for a short time. You should ensure your dog has the opportunity to spend enough time with people and friendly dogs to help prevent boredom or it becoming lonely. You should also encourage your dog to be friendly and interact with other friendly dog, but if your dog is fearful or aggressive towards other dogs then you should avoid the situations that cause this behaviour. Puppies should be socialised with people and dogs. You should ensure that your dogs are handled properly and are not stressed or endangered by other adults, children or animals, including people who look after them when you’re not there. Never leave your dog unsupervised with another animal or person who may deliberately or accidentally harm or frighten it. If you have more than one dog then they need to get on together and you should keep them together for company if possible, but also give them space to be away from each other when they need it.

 

Section 5: The need to be Protected from Pain,

Suffering, Injury and Disease

 

Dogs feel pain like people do and they show this in different ways. Any change in your dog’s

behaviour can be an early sign that they are unwell or in pain. Dogs that are ill, or in pain, often change their eating and drinking habits. They may eat less or stop eating and lose weight and they may drink water excessively, drink less or not at all. You should take precautions to keep your dog safe from injury and contact your vet in any changes of behaviour. They should be checked over regularly and watch for signs of illness, injury and disease and if you see signs and symptoms of illness or pain then contact a vet quickly. Your dog is required to wear a collar and identity tag when in a public place. Collars should be of the correct size and fit, and should not cause it any pain or discomfort. They are also required to have a microchip as a form of identification, so you need to remember to keep the microchip database up to date with any changes in your contact details.

Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs

Real Life Stories

Not quite sure how BSL works or what happens to a dog and their owner? Read about it here by two owners who have been through the harrowing experience. 
Brian and Oggie

 

In April 2015 I had asked a friend to look after Oggi whilst I was busy, she let Oggi out of her flat to go to the toilet, he was not on his lead, a man was passing with his pug, also off lead, at the same time. Oggi and the pug sniffed each other, the pug growled and the two dogs had a minor scuffle, they were immediately separated with no injury to either dog. The pug owner reported the incident to the police as he wanted them to record the incident but didn’t wish to pursue a formal complaint.

 

The police attended, upon seeing Oggi they immediately seized him as a potential banned breed, a pit bull type dog. I arrived at the scene to see Oggi in the back seat of a marked police car. The police explained that he would be assessed by a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) and if found not to be a prohibited breed he would be returned to me in the next couple of days.Not knowing anything about Breed Specific legislation part of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) I searched on Facebook, a Staffy group advised me to contact DDA Watch.

 

I waited three weeks for the police to give me news of Oggi, I was so worried about him I couldn’t sleep.When the police did get in touch, it was to tell me that Oggi had been confirmed as a pit bull type dog by the DLO. I waited a further two months to be interviewed by the police, at which time I was charged under section 1 of the DDA 1991 with owning a prohibited dog namely a Pit Bull breed named Oggi contrary to section 1(3) & (7) of Dangerous Dog Act 1991.I was emailing the PC in charge of Oggi’s case on a weekly basis to enquire about Oggi’s wellbeing, but received no reply.

 

I retained the services of James Parry from the solicitors Parry, Welch and Lacey and eventually I was summoned to attend court on 15/10/2015, six months after Oggi had been seized. This hearing was adjourned to 19/11/2015 due to a delay in the legal aid paperwork. During the November hearing I pleaded not guilty to the charge as I had been advised by my solicitor to get an independent assessment of Oggi’s breed, this meant that my case was further adjourned until 14/01/2016.From the first week that Oggi was seized I had been asking for the police to allow him home on an Interim Exemption Scheme, this was not granted until my solicitor wrote to them.

 

To my delight Oggi was returned home under the scheme a week before Christmas, he had been held in undisclosed kennels for 8 long months. When he came home he was very thin with a dull coat and bald patches. Before the January court date the independent assessor came to see Oggi, he found him to be NOT pit bull type and a very nice friendly dog.

 

The assessment was sent to the CPS and they dropped the case two days before my final hearing date, due to insufficient evidence.Oggi and I had been put through eight months of hell, I was so worried not knowing where Oggi was, or if I would ever see him again, or if I would end up with a criminal conviction just for owning him. The experience totally drained me, it left me with severe depression and has scarred both Oggi and myself for life.

Brian & Oggie in  happier times

"I was so worried not knowing where Oggie was, or if I would ever see him again."

Rachael and Darcie

Darcie as a puppy

"we were devastated, we’d fought so hard for her, but we were determined, we would not give up on her, she was a member of our family."

Darcie came to us at 6 weeks old, the house she came from was not the best, the owner wanted the puppies gone so we brought her home. We saw her mother, a tiny tan coloured staffy, we were told her father was a Mastiff/Sharpei cross so we had no idea who Darcie would take after when she grew up. Darcie soon became our adored little puppy, as she grew it was clear how much she loved our six children, she was always so loving and gentle with them.

 

Darcie was 10 months old, it was my daughter’s birthday, the children were getting ready for school and there was a knock at the door. Expecting, maybe the postman had a parcel for my daughter, I answered it. There were so many people outside, an animal welfare officer, lots of police, and a camera crew! They told me they had come for Darcie, saying she was a dangerous dog, a pit bull, my beautiful, loving bouncy puppy was taken from us, I was angry, my children were crying, we didn’t know what to do. Then started the long process to get her back.

 

There were many court appearances, my partner and I were bailed each time, owning Darcie was a crime in the eyes of the law. Many times we thought we would never get her home, it took 10 months of phone calls, court, solicitors, advisors and stress! Eventually came the day they said Darcie could come back to us, she would be added to the list of exempted dogs. My partner and I got large fines, I was given a 12 month suspended sentence, but none of this mattered. Darcie could come home and our lives could resume, the children were so excited, there was also a new baby that Darcie had never met.

 

Then came the hardest blow, a letter from our council housing, as Darcie was a banned breed we could not have her in our home, we would be in breach of our tenancy, we were devastated, we’d fought so hard for her, but we were determined, we would not give up on her, she was a member of our family. Darcie came home, overjoyed to be back with us, running to greet all the children, gently kissing the new baby and giving us all the big slurps we had missed so much.

True to their word the council served us with an eviction order, they were putting us onto the street, just for owning a dog who had never harmed anyone, just that in the eyes of the law she looked like a banned breed. Our family rallied round, they all gave us somewhere to stay for as long as was needed, but as we were a large family we were separated, it was too hard to bear.

 

We searched endlessly for a new home to rent, every housing association and private landlord turned us away, many did not allow dogs, the ones that did would not allow a pit bull despite her being exempted. Desperate to be back together as a family we moved into our caravan, it was cramped but we were all together again, it was not ideal but it was all we had.

 

Eventually a house came up for rent, it was big enough and the landlord was happy to accept Darcie, the drawback was it was the other side of the country. We would be hundreds of miles from our family and friends, the children would have to adjust to new schools and a new life. We took the plunge; we had to because we couldn’t live in a small caravan forever.

 

A year on we’ve settled, we miss our family so much but our children have made new friends. Life has changed beyond belief, my partner had to give up his job to move, we no longer have the family support network that we once had, but Darcie is safe and we are a family again.

 

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Born Innocent ©2016 is a registered non-profit organisation 10145266. Our address is 20-22 Wenlock Road, London, N1 7GU

Born Innocent ©2016 is a non-profit organisation run by volunteers. Our aim is to see fairer, non breed specific canine legislation introduced and to assist in better education around dogs. All funds raised will be used towards lobbying and campaigning to achieve these goals.