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Vets to call for reform of law on dangerous dogs

THE BRITISH Veterinary Association will this week add its voice to calls for drastic amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act, which opponents describe as increasingly expensive and unworkable.

The RSPCA and the Kennel Club have already called for the Act to be changed, arguing that it costs millions of pounds a year in kennel fees for dogs whose owners are awaiting trial, and that it has led to lengthy and expensive court fees, as well as dogs being put down as pit-bull terriers whose owners are convinced are innocuous mongrels or pedigree Staffordshire bull terriers.

Police officers in areas with many pit bulls are worried that the Act is taking up an excessive amount of time and money.

Under the Act, passed 15 months ago, owners of pit-bull terriers had to neuter, tattoo, microchip and register them before the end of 1991 and keep them muzzled in public. Beyond that date, any owner of an unregistered or unmuzzled pit bull was liable to a fine, and the dog faces a mandatory death penalty.

The difficulties have arisen because the Act defines the dangerous dog as 'the type of dog known as a pit bull'. Pit-bull terriers are not a breed in Britain, although there are two breed specifications in the United States. Courts and expert witnesses have used various interpretations of the word type.

Hundreds of dogs have been destroyed on the ruling of magistrates, and dozens of owners have taken their cases to appeal. Some are awaiting judicial review on the definition of the Act after losing appeals to Crown courts. At least one dog described by Cruft's judges as a pedigree Staffordshire has been ruled to be a 'pit-bull type'.

Guidelines to police on pit-bull identification given by the Home Office when the Act came in have been substantially revised.

The BVA had stayed officially silent on the Act until now but will make its views known at a press conference on Thursday.

The association has become increasingly alarmed at the number of vets giving evidence for the prosecution on breed identification, leading to the death of healthy dogs which it sees as bad for the image of the profession. Breed identification forms no part of vets' training.

It is expected to call on Thursday for the mandatory death penalty to be lifted, giving the magistrates discretion in cases where there is no record of bad behaviour by the dog. It is also to press for the registration of pit bulls to be reopened, so owners of dogs who may have been brought under the terms of the Act by the wide interpretations of the courts can now be legalised.

The Home Office said it was monitoring the working of the Act but had no plans to amend it.