The brutal dog attack that tore away the ear of a six-year-old girl in a park in Essex this week has once again highlighted proposed changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act. Opinion in Lewisham is deeply divided, as residents desperately fight to keep their loved ones safe, both children and pets.
Not much legislation has been as widely criticised as the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991. The controversial law has been accused of failing both the dogs and their owners, with 6,000 reported dog attacks in 2011.
The new Dog Control Bill, currently awaiting a second reading in the House of Commons, could mean that, in future, owners can be prosecuted only for their dog’s deeds instead of its breed.
This would make it legal to own former “dangerous dogs” such as the Pit Bull Terrier, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino, and the Fila Brasileiro.
That is good news for dog owners such as Joy Jones, who lives in Deptford with her Pit Bull Terrier Buster – which attacked her and tore away the skin of her arm some years ago.
The incident has not changed Jones’ determination to keep the adopted Pit Bull alive. Even owning the dog is illegal today, but Jones hopes the proposed new legislation will make it legal again.
Jones said she supports the new bill because it puts the responsibility on the owner instead of the dog. She added: “Aggressive, problematic dogs are always the ones that have been treated badly or been neglected.”
Buster, for instance used to be a dangerous dog before she adopted it three years ago. “She was only skin and bones, and had deep scars after abuse when I found her,” Jones said.
However, she knew that if she reported the dog to the authorities in Lewisham it would be seized by the police and put down. Consequently she begged the owner to sell her the dog instead. Because of the amount she was offering the owner reluctantly agreed.
However, he did warn her that it was an “angry status dog” that only knew how to fight and attack; something Jones personally experienced in the months after she received it.
“One time he bit me and tore away the skin on my arm,” she said, adding that the greatest pain was knowing how badly the dog must have been treated for it to act so aggressively.
“Dogs simply want to please their owners, and if the owner is a nasty person, his dog will be nasty and aggressive as well,” she said.
However, three years later, Buster has put his harsh past behind him. Running around the green in Deptford Park the former dangerous dog looks both healthy and at ease. “He is a happy dog now,” Jones concluded.
But not everyone thinks the dog should be allowed in Lewisham. On the other side of the park is Marie Stuart, 69, who regularly walks her small terrier in the same area. She said she stops short every time she sees a Pit Bull.
Stuart said: “I know some boys in this park that train their dogs to be cruel and I really don’t like to be around such dangerous dogs.”
In her opinion, the new act will only make it easier for the wrong kind of people to buy the wrong kind of dogs.
“I see no reason for keeping these potential murder weapons amongst us,” Stuart said. She wonders how abolishing a law that bans the most dangerous breeds is supposed to make the public any safer.
The second reading of the new bill is set for March 30. If the bill completes all stages it will become law and replace the 1991 act.
Some names have been changed.