Whatever happened to Dangerous dogs?

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The Independent Culture
The moment: In August 1991, in a blaze of self congratulation, the then Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker, announced the Dangerous Dogs Act in response to a number of horrific canine attacks on children and adults. Under this law, 10,000 "pit-bull terriers" had to be instantly neutered, numbered and given third party insurance, or be humanely destroyed.

The background: Over the summer of 1991 well-publicised incidents aroused public hostility to dangerous dogs. Incidents included the a pit bull splintering eight ribs of the young Ruschsana Khan, while Frank Tempest's face was ravaged by two dogs of the same breed, who tore off his nose, right ear and left ear lobe. In the same period rottweilers killed 11- year-old Kellie Lynch and scalped two-year-old Charlette Hall. Kenneth Baker acted without delay, singling out pit-bull terriors as the main offenders. In his own words he admitted: "To put rottweilers, Dobermans and alsatians in the same category as pit bulls ...would have infuriated the "green welly" brigade ... However the pit bull lobby came to my aid by appearing in front of TV cameras with owners usually sporting tattoos and earrings while extolling the allegedly gentle nature of their dogs, whose names were invariably Tyson, Gripper, Killer or Sykes."

The effect: At first, public sentiment whipped up by the national press meant that a majority supported instant action. Confusion surrounding the new act was (and still is) rife, however, because there is no firm definition of "pit bull" recognised by the Kennel Club. Police have been unable to distinguish pit bulls from Staffordshire bull terriers and Staffy cross-breeds. In one celebrated case, Dempsey spent more than three years in a kennel after being seized when her muzzle was briefly removed in public to prevent her choking. The case cost taxpayers at least pounds 50,000 in legal bills and pounds 10,000 in kennel fees, not to mention the personal intervention of Bridget Bardot.

Moments of subsequence: The National Canine Defence League, in conjuction with the Dangereous Dogs Reform Group, have been presenting evidence to select committees to try and amend the law. They want discretion to be given back to magistrates when a dog is caught, instead of having to impose a mandatory death sentence. The House of Lords select committee has already found in favour of the League's reccomendation, and the judgement of the Commons select committee is expected within the next few weeks.

Just before last Christmas, the courts found that Dempsey was not a pit bull, and she was released. There are still a number of dogs who were caught before the Act came into force and so couldn't be registered, and are still in captivity - at a cost to the taxpayer of pounds 9 per dog per day. A couple of months ago a girl underwent emergency eye surgery after she was savaged by a neighbour's dog as she played with a friend. Meanwhile, recent research shows that more people are treated for human bites than from wounds inflicted by dogs.

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