Simply not that sort of dog

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The Independent Online
Bonnie and Clyde got to be Public

Enemy Number One . . .

Acting upon reliable information

A federal deputation laid a deadly

ambush

When Bonnie and Clyde came walking

in the sunshine . . .

ON THIS occasion, luckily, Bonnie and Clyde were not immediately shot. They were, however, taken into police custody. Bonnie remains there. Last Saturday Clyde was released without charge. When he hot-tailed home the first thing he did was search high and low, hoping that Bonnie might be there.

For the next few nights he slept on the doormat, waiting for her. For Bonnie and Clyde are, of course, dogs. Unluckily for them they were born, 19 months ago, into that class of dog which is now regarded as Public Enemy Number One: they are bull terrier crosses. Under the provisions of the Dangerous Dogs Act, legislation that both the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA have strongly criticised this week, Bonnie and Clyde were liable at any time to be picked up by the law and accused of being of 'the type of dog known as a pit bull terrier'. If either is found guilty they will be killed, despite never having bitten anyone in anger.

Their tangle with the law started on the morning of Christmas Eve. Michael Beauchamp, a 24-year-old self-employed central heating engineer from Leyton in east London, was giving them a run in a nearby park.

'They ran over to sniff a pair of dogs with a woman across the way. She grabbed hold of Bonnie and started shouting at me, so I walked over. She said, 'Why aren't these dogs muzzled and on leashes? They're pit bulls.'

'I said, 'They're not.' And the next thing, she said she's a dog warden and she was on her radio asking for police back up, as though I was raping her.'

Police arrived. Bonnie and Clyde were bundled into a van. Michael was cautioned, taken to the police station, and put in a cell for three hours. When he was released he and his girlfriend, Samantha Abrahams, a 23-year-old legal secretary, found that not only were they not allowed to visit their dogs, they were not even allowed to know where they were being kept.

Over their ruined Christmas they phoned around, trying to get help. The news was not good. What was the definition of a pit bull terrier? For the courts, they discovered, no such thing as a standard existed. It was entirely up to each court for each case. And if the court decided that Bonnie or Clyde was a pit bull Michael would find himself with a criminal conviction and, at the worst, a six-month jail sentence.

'We got them as pups,' says Samantha. 'We know both the parents. Their mother is a Staffordshire bull terrier. The father is a mongrel. He was picked up by the police a while ago and released as not being a pit bull. So how on earth can these two be pit bulls?'

Last Saturday Clyde was released, the police having decided that he was not a pit bull. Bonnie, on the other hand, they have kept, on the grounds that she is a pit bull. Yet the two dogs are full brother and sister.

It is recognised that Staffordshire bull terriers are not dangerous dogs: the Kennel Club requires in its breed standards that they should be good with children. Yet recently a Kennel Club- registered Staffordshire, with five generations of pedigree, was destroyed on court orders as a 'type of dog known as a pit bull terrier'. Clyde, so far, is lucky.

'When I picked Clyde up from the police,' says Samantha, 'He had bad kennel cough. My vet said he was dehydrated, with chronic diarrhoea which had probably caused ulcers, because he had blood on him. He'd lost weight. It makes us very worried about Bonnie. I offered to pay for her food, I asked if I could pay for a vet to go and check on her health - but they won't let me.'

The British Veterinary Association is also disturbed by the fact that alleged pit bulls picked up by the police are kept in solitary confinement for months, and that their health may suffer. They should, it believes, be allowed bail in the same way as humans.

The position of the law at present is that if you are a human who commits burglaries for a living you are likely to be given bail. If, on the other hand, you are a bull terrier-type of dog with a blameless track record and respectable owners - even if, like Bonnie and Clyde, you are neutered and incapable of reproducing your kind - you will be banged up for about six or seven months before death or release.

The cost to the taxpayer is remarkable. About 350 dogs were in police kennels in November in the London metropolitan area alone. The cost is about pounds 9 a day per dog. Kennelling alone, for these 350 dogs must be costing more than pounds 500,000, mostly from the public purse.

Clyde lay on the sofa, unaware. He was not easy to photograph. Every time the photographer bent to take his picture he rushed across to lick her face. Samantha sat him down with one of her two cats. Much to the cat's disgust, Clyde started licking it. Gentleness of character is, however, no defence.

'In some ways I agree with the Dangerous Dogs Act,' says Samantha, fending Clyde's friendly face from her nose. 'I don't think people should be allowed to have dogs for fighting. Pit bulls should be registered. But I don't think it should operate like this.'

The Dangerous Dogs Act was a rushed law, in response to public indignation at dog attacks. It shows. Any dog that was not registered as a pit bull by the end of 1991 and is now judged to be one is killed, as the register has been closed. Possession of an unregistered pit bull-type dog is a criminal offence with no defence.

The onus of proving innocence is on the owner. And if the courts are at odds as to what such a dog is, how can an ordinary person buying a mongrel pup know what it will grow to resemble? If a better definition of a pit bull terrier cannot be given, says the BVA, then the register for legal pit bull terriers should be reopened to prevent making criminals out of honest citizens.

Clyde's mother, Charlie, went out for that now-dangerous activity, a walk. She will soon have a DNA test to prove her maternity. But will it help? Clyde, left behind, whined. Police have told Samantha and Michael that he could be picked up again at any time. Over his whines Georgie Fame's song played out its dismal prophecy on the tape:

Bonnie and Clyde, they lived a lot together - and finally together they died.

(Photograph omitted)

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