Owner refuses to muzzle two pets 'as meek as lambs': Number of incidents involving dangerous dogs remains as high as before legislation was introduced

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EVERY day Joe Graham defies the law - twice. Once in the morning when he takes 'Tiger' for a walk in the park near his home in Stockport, Greater Manchester, and again when he enjoys an evening stroll with 'Rhino', writes Edward Pilkington.

Tiger and Rhino stand less than 2ft (60cms) high, but between them they have a jaw strength of 4,000lb per square inch (281kg/sq cm). Should they choose to sink their combined 84 teeth into part of your anatomy, you would have a hard job wrenching them off.

Even so, Mr Graham refuses to register them or muzzle them in public, though he always keeps them on a lead. He insists that despite all the hype surrounding dangerous dogs, his pair are as meek as lambs.

'My dogs can be nasty to other dogs,' he said. 'But they are not the least bit aggressive towards people. I see no reason why I should have to abide by such a ridiculous law.'

Mr Graham faces five charges related to his refusal to register Rhino, a six-year-old male, on the index of dangerous dogs. Tiger, a nine-year- old bitch, has already been ordered to be destroyed but Mr Graham is hoping to overturn the ruling on appeal at Manchester Crown Court.

He will argue that his two dogs are not subject to the Dangerous Dogs Act because they are not pit bulls as defined by the law. Rather, he says, they are pure-bred American pit bulls registered with the American Dog Breeders' Association. The president of the association will be flying to Britain to give evidence.

Mr Graham's distinction between pit bulls and American pit bulls is a fine one. Unlike its American counterpart, the Kennel Club does not recognise American pit bulls as a breed, so in Britain there is no means of telling between the two.

Mr Graham speaks with the passion of someone who feels he is at the receiving end of injustice. 'It is my right to be respected as a responsible dog owner,' he said. 'We are being victimised by the Government who made the pit bull a scapegoat. It was a cynical political move.

'My son has grown up with Tiger. They were born within three weeks of each other and she has never done anything wrong to him or to anybody else.'

The local police charged Mr Graham after he was spotted walking the dogs unmuzzled. But they have allowed him to keep the animals at home until his court case is resolved. 'The police in this area are sensible enough not to go around dragging people's pets off them,' he says.

But if and when they do finally knock on his door, Mr Graham vows to resist. 'I cannot see myself handing my dogs over to be killed. I would be too ashamed of myself.'

(Photograph omitted)