Dog was impounded but released by police days earlier because the Dangerous Dogs Act exempts “Staffordshire” pit bulls
LONDON, England––Following the August 15, 2016 fatal mauling of David Ellam, 52, by a reported Staffordshire pit bull, who had just been returned to the owner by police, foes of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 may have furnished a new leading example of chutzpah.
The dog was also described by media as a “female bull terrier” and a “Staffordshire/Labrador cross.”
“Not a banned breed”
“West Yorkshire Police said a dog warden had visited the address following concerns from members of the public about the same animal being a dangerous breed in June 2016,” wrote Elizabeth Roberts for The Daily Mail. The dog “was seized by police who determined that it was not a banned breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act, and it was returned to its owner on August 8.”
Often defined by the hypothetical example of a psychopath killing his parents and then pleading for mercy as an orphan, chutzpah was illustrated in real life by Kennel Club spokesperson Caroline Kisko in comments to BBC News.
“We’ve been given the idea that we are all secure because the Dangerous Dogs Act has vilified a certain type of dog and therefore, as long as they’re illegal, we’re all safe,” Kisko complained.
Kisko overlooked that Staffordshire-type pit bulls are the most numerous of the “certain type of dog,” responsible for by far the greatest number of disfiguring attacks, and that the dog who killed Ellam was only able to do so because the Dangerous Dogs Act specifically exempts Staffordshires.
The fatal attack at Riddings Road, Sheepridge, near victim Ellam’s home, occurred as Ellam walked his own small dog.
The attack demonstrated several other points often emphasized by ANIMALS 24-7: the near-uselessness of knives as defensive weapons against dog attacks, the questionable utility of Tasers, and the efficacy of fire extinguishers.
(See also 15 real-life tips for surviving a dog attack [2016 edition].)
“I heard screams of ‘Help, this dog is attacking me,’” recounted a witness, who asked Roberts of the Daily Mail to not be named. “As soon as I saw the dog attacking him I ran inside and called the owner, who told me he would be there in a minute. By that time [Ellam’s] kneecap was completely gone and blood was everywhere. The dog latched onto the guy’s head and had him in a vice. The dog then started ragging his head from side to side. The police [who in England do not routinely carry firearms] turned up, but said they wouldn’t use their Tasers on the dog to stop it because they thought they would kill it,” less a likelihood than that the Taser barbs might not stick to fur well enough to deliver an effective electric shock.
“Someone else got out a hose and used that at the dog,” the witness said, “but it still wouldn’t let go and kept on dragging the man closer to its kennel.”
Though Ellam was thrown a kitchen knife, he was unable to use it. A man missing a kneecap, having already lost a great amount of blood and still being mauled, would have great difficulty bracing himself to hold and use a knife effectively.
Said another witness, “The guy just ended up passing out. He was unconscious, the poor guy. When the police came, an officer used a fire extinguisher from the [police] car to get the dog off.”
The Staffordshire owner, a 29-year-old man, was reportedly arrested on unspecified charges.
Kennel Club spokesperson Kisko was scarcely the only dangerous dog advocate to demonstrate chutzpah while Ellam’s blood was still congealing on Riddings Road.
According to Roberts, one Keeley Berry said on social media, describing herself as Ellam’s cousin, “We all understand people are shocked as many will agree that the situation was entirely preventable, but please do not make sweeping generalizations about dog breeds.”
While the Dangerous Dogs Act purports to exclude from the United Kingdom American pit bulls and three other relatively rare pit bull variants, the Japanese Tosa, Fila Braziliero, and Dogo Argentino, Staffordshires and all other commonly recognized pit bull variants have been exempted through tireless lobbying by the Kennel Club, Royal SPCA, Dogs Trust, and other dog advocacy charities.
(See also The RSPCA recommends you & your pets for a pit bull’s dinner and How the League Against Cruel Sports is defending dogfighting.)
Along with Staffordshires, bull mastiffs, presa canaries, and cane corsos all are legal.
Staffordshires commit 43% of U.K. attacks
Meanwhile, Staffordshires and Staffordshire pit mixes have now accounted for six fatalities and 43% of the total dog attack disfigurements occurring in the U.K. since 2005. Bull mastiffs and cane corsos have killed three people, disfiguring eighteen.
The exemption of Staffordshires, bull mastiffs, and other pit bull variants thereby demonstrates the fallacy of trying to ban some pit bulls without banning all, and the political naivete of trying to appease pit bull fanciers by exempting pits and pit variants of pedigree.
Dogs recognized as American pit bulls or bulldogs, often masquerading as “Staffordshires” until seized after an attack, have killed 11 people and disfigured 43 in the U.K. since 2005. The disfigurement total from nominally excluded pit bulls is second only to the 72 people disfigured by Staffordshires.
Only seven of the 27 dog attack fatalities since 2005 and 17% of the disfigurements have been by dogs not in the pit bull category.
Mary Ann Redfern says
Legalized murder, plain and simple. Infuriating.
Jamaka Petzak says
As in my own family, with relatives like Ellam’s self-described cousin, who needs enemies?
A. St-Laurent says
Anyone know whether the guy’s family would have any legal recourse for the police’s decision to not deploy a taser, essentially prioritizing the life of a pit bull over the life of a man bleeding out from its attack?
You’ve mentioned several times that the DDA was amended in 1997 to exclude Staffordshires. The text of the 1997 amendment seems to exclusively relate to beefing up the statutory exemption scheme of banned breeds from a grandfather clause for dogs born before 1991, to one where any seized pit bull can be retrospectively exempted:
That appears to be wha5t Kenneth Baker is referring to here:
” But, under pressure from animal charities, in 1997 Parliament watered down the Act by introducing an amendment giving magistrates discretionary powers to give illegal breeds back to their owners, subject to certain restrictions, if the owners are deemed responsible enough to keep the dogs under control. (Magistrates decide on the basis of evidence given in reports by the police, defendants’ evidence, and supporting documents such as letters from vets or neighbours. Notably, seven months before Ogunyemi’s murder Chrisdian Johnson had been allowed by a court to keep Tyson after he agreed to have the dog microchipped and insured.) Unsurprisingly, pit bull numbers immediately started to rise again, and the population is now thought to have passed the 1991 figure of 10,000.
Kenneth (now Lord) Baker believes the 1997 amendment was a mistake. ‘The intention of the Dangerous Dogs Act was to eliminate breeds like pit bulls in this country,’ he says. ‘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.’ ”
As far as I was aware the DDA only ever covered “American Pit Bull Terriers,” narrowly defined, plus the three exotic breeds, although I’m prepared to be corrected. It’s still a major part of the problem, though.