Dealing with dangerous dogs and their owners
by Julie Girling
Dog attacks can have a devastating impact on both the owners and the dogs involved, be they pets or guide dogs – writes MEP
A number of constituents have contacted me regarding irresponsible dog ownership. How the problem is dealt with is the responsibility of the British government, not the European Union. However, I am particularly concerned about unprovoked attacks on guide dogs. Recent measures announced by the United Kingdom government include extending dangerous dog laws to all private property. This change will mean that irresponsible dog owners, who fail to take adequate steps to control their dogs on private land, can be prosecuted.
This will give greater protection to legitimate visitors to the home, such as health workers or postal workers, without penalising the owners of dogs that defend them against trespassers. The government has made clear it will ensure that a dog owner, whose dog defends him or the family against a burglar, will not be penalised. There is clearly a big difference between a dog defending its owner or owner's property against a trespasser and a dog that is wildly and dangerously out of control and that attacks a lawful visitor.
In order to get the balance right, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK has also announced a consultation on whether to micro-chip all dogs with a view to implementing the compulsory micro-chipping of new-born puppies. The response to that consultation is expected shortly. This may help tackle the problem of irresponsible owners, who cannot be traced after a dog has attacked, and ease the overwhelming number of strays that are put down as the owner cannot be identified.
Attacks on guide dogs are deplorable. The latest research from Guide Dogs for the Blind shows the number of reported attacks has risen from three a month to more than eight attacks a month, within a 24 month period from June 2010 to May 2012. Some 183 dog attacks occurred between May 30 2010 and April 30 2012. The emotional wellbeing of the handlers was reported to have been affected following 68 per cent of the attacks.
Further research has shown many guide dog owners have been left too frightened to go out as a result of an attack. One guide dog owner wanted to move house due to the response of the owners of the attacking dog. In some cases - verbal abuse is used against blind and partially sighted people, drink or drugs are often in evidence and in one case the owner of an aggressive dog laughed at a guide dog owner while the attack on his guide dog took place.
This is not acceptable. Dog attacks can have a devastating impact on both the owners and the dogs involved, be they pets or guide dogs. Society must do more to hold the owners to account for the actions of their dogs, if they attack another dog or a human.
Julie Girling is a Conservative Party MEP representing South West England and Gibraltar in the European Parliament – she is also a member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee