Dogs: barking mad and dangerous to own: After Jilly Cooper's failed canine mercy-plea, Nicholas Roe proposes a commonsense Dog Bill

Share
YOU have to admire Jilly Cooper. Her fax to a judge this week making a clemency plea for a doomed dog was a stroke of dramatic genius marred only by the fact that it didn't work. The judge merely paused to rap Ms Cooper's knuckles before going on to pass sentence on poor Buster as originally planned.

There is one point to hang on to, though. The interesting thing about Ms Cooper's mercy-fax was not that she had the nerve to give it a go. No, the key was that she was trying to inject some Fantasy Justice into the British legal system. Never mind the law, Jilly was saying, let's have some common sense here. And fair enough. After all, Buster hadn't actually done anything. His owners had merely failed to comply with the conditions of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act which demands neutering, muzzling, registration and so on.

So, taking Ms Cooper's cue, let's ask this question: in a perfect world, how should we rewrite the dog laws? I say 'laws' because there are about 25 of them at present; an arcane tangle of doggy controls of which the Dangerous Dogs Act is merely one of the latest and crankiest.

Animal experts said at the very beginning that this 'knee-jerk' response to various attack horror stories was too breed-specific, too harsh, too difficult to apply (because identifying pit-bull mongrels is really, really difficult) and far too narrow in scope. Now they are being proved right.

Meanwhile, people are still being bitten (not by pit-bulls, but that's of little comfort); dogs are still barking too loudly in quiet streets; dogs are still damaging property, and causing road accidents, and mucking up parks and pavements; and we are, by the way, spending roughly twice as much on dog wardens as we did three years ago. Terry Singh, who runs the five-strong, pounds 200,000-a- year dog warden service in Bradford, says: 'We are all paying somewhere along the line. Everyone is paying.'

The point is that reality isn't coping. We have all these laws yet they are not working, which means that if ever there was a time for the fantasy of common sense it is now. Ta-ra ta-ra] I would like to publish my Fantasy Dog Bill:

Clause One: There Shall Be A Licence. And it shall be paid for, too. The problem of dog control is that we buy on a whim, then swiftly lose interest. There are 7,400,000 dogs in Britain, of which about 500,000 run loose at any time. We value only what we pay for because that is the sort of society we have become. Very well then. Pay. Say, pounds 25 initial registration plus pounds 10 a year upgraded for inflation.

Discounts will be offered for neutering, spaying or block ownership, but even so this will fund an awful lot of dog wardens. It will also give courts a visible control lever. We are talking endorsements here: three penalty points for a dog-fouling offence, five for persistent annoyance to neighbours, 10 for a bite. Accumulations over a three-year period should not exceed 15 points or the licence to own would be revoked and the dog sold. Repeated offences would make death inevitable. Sorry.

Clause Two: There Shall Be A Test. Certainly. Like a car, a dog can move quickly, kill, maim and pollute, and like a car it takes skill to control. Why require training for one, but not the other? Mr Singh is making rapid inroads into the stray problem in his city, partly through a programme of education. So this clause insists that dog-licence applicants must attend training classes, leading to a test. Subjects to include medical insights into toxocariasis - a disease that can be passed by dogs to humans through excreta; also community awareness and canine psychology.

Clause Three: Registration Inevitable. Essential. But not only registration as now - a mish-mash of voluntary tagging schemes each working independently of the other. The overwhelming need is for a single, central, computer- based system with a common technology that any police force and any dog warden has access to. The Government has sneered at this idea, saying it would be cumbersome and expensive. Bradford's experience of a voluntary scheme is that it works and saves money because stray dogs are whipped straight back to the owners, instead of languishing in the dog-pound at public expense.

Clause Four: No Laws But This. I won't bore you, but the Fantasy Dog Act would pick the best bits out of every other piece of dog legislation, compress them into one clear law, then scrap the rest. Did you know, for instance, that if a dog bites someone at present, its owner can be prosecuted either under the Dogs Act 1871 or the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act? The difference is that the early legislation gives magistrates discretion over whether or not to issue a destruction order. The 1991 Act, on the other hand, insists on destruction if the skin is broken. Did you know that bad-dog owners can escape legal control orders simply by handing the animal to someone else? 'Not my dog any more, guv,' they say, and there is little the courts can do.

Did you even know that allowing your dog to stray is not itself an offence, so long as it wears a collar with your address on? Yet stray dogs form the root of all canine problems . . . . There are other silly things which this clause would mop up, but you can see where all this is leading. A Fantasy Dog Act would produce a smaller population of loved pets; animals that do not suffer or cause suffering and would have a welcome place in the community. It would work, honestly.

If Jilly Cooper would like to fax me her support it would be a start.

(Photograph omitted)

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Co-Ordinator - FF&E

£35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior FF&E Project Co-ordinator is re...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Carer / Support Worker plus Bank Support

£10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A delightful, 11 year old boy who lives in t...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
David Cameron and Ed Miliband officially launched their election campaigns yesterday after Parliament was dissolved  

All-or-nothing simplicities are going to blight this election

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor