MANCHESTER, U.K.––Amendments to the Dangerous Dogs Act that permit prosecuting people whose dogs attack other people on private property took effect two days too late to satisfy Paula Kudray, 33, of Moston, a district of Manchester.
The amendments took effect on a Tuesday, explained Dan Thompson and Emma Flanagan of the Manchester Evening News, but Kudray’s seven-year-old son Aaron was mauled by a bull mastiff on the preceding Sunday as he played in a neighbor’s garden. Another child had released the 18-month-old dog from an adjacent yard.
Aaron Kudray suffered serious injuries to his face and left arm. The bull mastiff was killed by consent of the owner.
Whether the amendments might have prevented the attack on Aaron Kudray is unclear. But the amended Dangerous Dogs Act now provides sentences of from two to five years in prison for people who keep dogs in a manner that exposes others to risk.
Introduced in 1991, the Dangerous Dogs Act initially exempted attacks on private property from prosecution, in the mistaken belief that attacks on private property usually involve either unauthorized intruders or the victims’ own pets. The fallacy of exempting attacks on private property was quickly evident, but momentum toward amendment built only after two bull mastiffs and two Staffordshire pit bulls fatally mauled Jade Anderson, 13, in March 2013. Anderson was a sleepover guest at a friend’s home.
Attacks on unauthorized intruders are still exempted from prosecution.
The amended Dangerous Dogs Act also now makes allowing a dog to attack a guide dog or other trained assistance dog a crime punishable by up to three years in prison.
The amendments came as the United Kingdom experienced unprecedented numbers of dog attacks. David Barrett, home affairs correspondent for the Press Association, found through filing Freedom of Information requests that only one of the largest U.K. police forces, the London Metropolitan Police, had impounded fewer dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2013 than in 2012.
In London, Barrett wrote. “585 dogs were seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2013 and 95 were destroyed. This compared with 777 dangerous dogs seized and 103 destroyed in 2012.”
By contrast, Barrett learned, “The country’s second largest force, West Midlands Police, revealed the number of dogs seized under the Dangerous Dogs Act had risen by 50% compared with 2011, while the numbers of dogs killed for dangerous behavior increased by 24%. “
Lancashire, Avon and Somerset, Surrey, South Wales, North Wales, Warwickshire, Cleveland and Gwent also reported increases in the numbers of dangerous dogs seized in 2013.
The BBC “Week In Week Out” news team meanwhile found that dog attacks in Wales had increased by 81% since 2000, and that 91% of the victims were age 14 or younger.
The Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991 banned pit bulls and the Fila Brasileiro and Dogo Argentino crosses of pit bull with mastiff. Also banned was the Japanese tosa, a fighting breed resembling a pit bull.
There were no dog attack fatalities in the U.K. from 1991 to 1997, but in 1997 a coalition of Staffordshire breeders and humane organizations prevailed upon Parliament t
to exempt Staffordshires from the Dangerous Dogs Act definition of a pit bull. The 1997 amendments also gave magistrates discretionary authority to return dogs of illegal breeds to their owners, subject to restrictions meant to ensure safe behavior.
“The intention of the Dangerous Dogs Act was to eliminate breeds like pit bulls in this country,” then-home secretary Kenneth Lord Baker recalled in a 2010 interview with The Daily Telegraph. “For the first five years it worked very well, but as soon as the Government gave in to animal charities, the whole thing was doomed. There is no need for anyone to have these dogs, and to suggest that you can somehow educate the owners––well, I just don’t think that’s realistic if you look at who the owners are.’
Exempting Staffordshires allowed unrestrained proliferation of the most common type of pit bull, and the first to be pedigreed. The “Staffordshire” name originated with dogfighter John P. Colby, of Newburyport, Massachusetts, who produced his first litter of fighting dogs in 1889.
The Boston Globe on December 29, 1906 reported that police shot one of his dogs, who mauled a boy while a girl escaped. On February 2, 1909 the Globe described how one of Colby’s dogs killed Colby’s two-year-old nephew, Bert Colby Leadbetter.
Unable to secure an American Kennel Club pedigree for his pit bulls under names that the AKC associated with dogfighting, Colby chartered the the Staffordshire Club of America and began marketing his dogs as Staffordshires.
The AKC then accepted the Colby dogs as a pedigreed line. As the standard for the Staffordshire breed, the AKC chose the fighting dog known as Colby’s Primo.
Colby’s wife Florence continued the Colby breeding program after her husband’s death in 1941. She also served as president of the Staffordshire Club of America. Two of Colby’s sons helped to popularize pit bulls under the Staffordshire name: .Joseph Colby, author of American Pit Bull Terrier (1936), and Louis Colby, co-author with Diane Jessup of Colby’s Book of the American Pit Bull Terrier. Both books make explicitly clear that a Staffordshire is a pit bull––and Colby continued to fight dogs to the end of his life.
At least 24 Staffordshires have killed or disfigured people in the U.K. during the nine months preceding passage of the 2014 Dangerous Dogs Act amendments. The U.K. has about a fifth of the human population of the U.S., and about 75% as many dogs per capita (one dog per six people, to one dog per 4.5 people in the U.S.), so 24 fatal & disfiguring attacks in the U.K. would be the equivalent in proportionate scale to 120 in the U.S., or 160 projected over a year’s time.
To put that into perspective, the total number of fatal and disfiguring attacks by all types of pit bull in the U.S. combined, Staffordshires included, came to just 103 in the eleven-year 1982-1992 time frame. The annual total reached 100 for the first time in 2003 (128), topped 100 twice more in the next three years, and has now risen for six consecutive years, from 74 in 2007 to 585 in 2013.
(See also “The science of how behavior is inherited in aggressive dogs,” by Alexandra Semyonova, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-g5.)