Dangerous Dogs debate
23rd May 2012
David Burrowes backs a campaign to change the dangerous dogs legislation away from focusing on specific breeds and calls for better education on responsible dog ownership.
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.
I welcome the debate and come to it with a number of interests. As a criminal defence solicitor for more than 14 years, I have defended many a so-called dangerous dog and have seen for myself the failings of the legislation. The winners are either the lawyers or the animal experts who deal with the not so simple issue of whether a pit bull is a pit bull. I have employed the wisdom of many such an expert in many a long trial. The legislation often fails the victims of the attacks that we have heard so much about.
I have a more immediate interest in the debate, as two weeks ago, my Labrador was attacked in our local park by a Staffordshire bull terrier. My Labrador ended up in the local animal hospital. My family were around at the time. Thankfully it was only the dog who was attacked, and no one else. I have great respect for Staffies, which are great family pets, and I do not wish to demonise them. Indeed, it is important not to demonise breeds—sadly, a result of previous legislation. The owner of the Staffy had said, “He may look ferocious, but he is a lovely family pet and no problem at all.” No sooner had he said that then his dog set upon our Labrador.
The owner was shocked that his dog was capable of the attack, which reminds us that the heart of the debate is responsible dog ownership. Any dog is capable—given the moment, time or provocation—of causing injury. There needs to be particular responsibility for some breeds, such as some terriers and Staffies. That is why this issue goes far beyond legislation into our culture and attitude towards dogs. We all know that in many cases we are dealing with a dangerous owner rather than a dangerous dog, and we need to find ways to tackle the issue.
I also speak on behalf of my constituents. Increasingly typical in the constituencies represented in the Chamber, particularly in London, are a growing number of so-called status dogs roaming around parks without proper responsible ownership. Many of our constituents, whether families with young children or responsible dog owners, will not go into parks because they are worried about being attacked. That is unacceptable and we need to do something about it.
Caroline Nokes: I want to draw my hon. Friend’s attention to some work done by the Dogs Trust over the past few years encouraging responsible dog ownership, improving education and particularly working with disadvantaged young men to encourage them to have their dogs neutered and microchipped, and to learn how to handle them. Better education has a massive role to play.
Mr Burrowes: I pay tribute to the work of the Dogs Trust, which works locally alongside owners, housing associations, police, schools and across the board to carry out projects, including pilots that need to be extended. In Enfield, in the Parkguard project, two dedicated parks officers make it their business to encounter intimidating-looking dogs—and intimidating owners, probably—and work with them to try to encourage them and teach them how to handle their dog properly. More of that needs to happen.
We need a change in legislation. As a lawyer, I welcome the extension to the definition of private places, having argued the case over whether a place is private or public. I heard recently from the council leader in Enfield that, during the London elections, a German shepherd opened a door into a yard and attacked a canvasser, seriously injuring their arm. That change is needed and makes sense, as does microchipping. The measures must be dealt with proportionately but carefully. Local discretion needs to be inbuilt to enable more dogs—not just puppies—to be chipped.
This is a good start. As a lawyer, I know that identity is a key issue. Many an argument has been had about who really owns a dog and we should not underestimate that issue. However, it is important to go beyond legislation, into prevention. That is why local projects are good. We can develop a general culture about how we handle our dogs carefully.
This is still a nation of dog lovers. However, we must recognise that the nation has changed over the years, especially in London, with different cultures comprising our metropolis. In my patch, for example, many people in the Turkish community have a particular view about dogs, which are not traditionally regarded as pets. We need to show respect and develop people’s education early on, so that they understand how to look after dogs carefully and own them, so that we can truly be a nation of dog lovers.