Leading article: Bring back the dog licence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There is a tinge of desperation to the Government's plan to introduce a requirement for all dog owners to insure their pets to be able to pay compensation to anyone whom the unhappy animals might bite. It is of the "something must be done" school of politics. There must be an election in the offing. We have been here before, of course. Last time it was called the Dangerous Dogs Act. Introduced in haste it was repented over at leisure and quickly became derided as one of the most ineffective pieces of legislation passed in recent British history, with lawyers having a field day applying for individual animals to be placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs.

This time what will happen is that millions of law-abiding dog owners will stump up for the insurance, with much grumbling, while the bad owners of badly-behaved dogs will ignore the law, much as many of them do with the obligation to insure their car. There will be much complaint about yet another unnecessary burden for the majority which will be ignored by the minority who cause the problems. There is something comic about the idea of dog wardens issuing canine Asbos, much as there is about the Post Office's practice of writing to households whose animals have bitten postmen – and then expecting the poor postie to deliver the warning.

But there is nothing risible about the phenomenon of dangerous dogs. Each week, more than 100 people are admitted to hospital after dog attacks. That does not measure the number of children and adults who are intimidated by such beasts on the streets and in public parks. And the RSPCA suggests that the breeding of vicious dogs for fighting has increased 12-fold in the past decade.

The invention of a micro-chip which can be inserted under the skin of a dog containing details of the owner offers the solution, and not just because it affords newspapers headlines about man bytes dog. All dogs should be registered and chipped and the registration fee – the old dog licence – should be set at a cost which reflects the seriousness of being responsible for the care of an animal. Dogs which are found unregistered should then be put down with only the shortest of appeal mechanisms. Something must be done. But something effective.