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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success  

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

DJ Taylor
A strong currency isn't everything  

A strong pound is a great tonic, but it's not an end in itself

Hamish McRae
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?