Staffordshire exemption sentenced society to suffer mayhem
Part II of a three-part series also including: How the League Against Cruel Sports is defending dogfighting and Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapon Dogs, by Simon Harding
LONDON, U.K.––Dog attacks in England increased by 76% in 10 years and appear to be still rising rapidly in frequency and severity, according to British Health & Social Care Information Centre data, released to media on May 28, 2015.
The numbers came from Hospital Episodes Statistics, based on records of all patients admitted to National Health Service hospitals.
The records show that 7,227 people were admitted to hospitals due to dog-inflicted injury between March 2014 and February 2015, up from 4,110 dog attack admissions for the 12 months ending in February 2005.
Children: 16% of victims, 2/3 of fatalities
Children under age nine accounted for 1,159 of the victims in 2014-2015, or just 16%, but 13 of the 21 dog attack fatalities were children.
Historically, from half to two-thirds of dog attack victims have been small children, since most dogs have inhibitions against attacking people who are significantly larger than themselves. This tendency has rapidly reversed over the past two decades, coinciding with the increasing popularity of “bully breed” dogs, who have no such inhibitions and kill and disfigure humans without regard to size.
3% of dogs per week show aggression
Observed Stuart Winter of The Express, “A study by the animal welfare charity Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals recently calculated that 3% of dogs are showing aggression to people on a weekly basis, equating to nearly 250,000 incidents every year.”
Three percent of the British dog population closely coincides with the proportion of “bully breed” dogs, including pit bulls, nominally banned in Britain since 1991, and Staffordshires, a pit bull line that was exempted from the ban in 1997.
Nominally banned, pits proliferate
Reported Steve Doohan and Andy Richardson of The Mirror just three days ahead of the release of Hospital Episodes Statistics data, “More than 3,000 banned pit bull terrier-type dogs have been discovered in Britain––almost 25 years after they were banned.
“A Freedom of Information request showed that legislation introduced following fatal attacks on children a quarter of a century ago has failed to halt the animals being bred and sold,” Doohan and Richardson continued. “Greater London had the largest amount of pit bulls with 1,060, while Merseyside was next with 237 followed by Greater Manchester with 223, and the West Midlands with 161.”
The Freedom of Information request was able to to identify the numbers of pit bulls, Doohan and Richardson explained, because “A banned dog can be seized by the police or a local warden even if the dog isn’t acting dangerously and no complaints have been made against the dog. If the case goes to court, the owner must prove the dog is not a banned type. If the owner cannot, he can face a fine of up to £5,000 or even six months in prison. However, if the court decides the dog is not a danger to the public, the dog can be put on the exempt register and returned to the owner. The owner will be given a certificate of exemption, valid for the life of the dog,” who must be sterilized, microchipped, insured for liability, and kept leashed and muzzled whenever in public.”
Pit bulls designated as such are only a small part of the total British pit bull population, however, because of the exemption of Staffordshires, who have become by far the most common breed in British shelters.
Non-breed specific amendments fail
Spokespersons for Dogs Trust and the Royal SPCA denied that pit bull proliferation, including proliferation of Staffordshires, was a cause of the surge in dog bite hospitalizations to the Dangerous Dogs Act amendments that took effect in May 2014 appear to have accomplished little toward reducing dog attack injuries and deaths.
The most significant amendment permits prosecuting people whose dogs attack other people on private property, providing 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 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, amid increasing evidence that the Staffordshire exemption had rendered the Dangerous Dogs Act ineffective.
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––which appears to account for London now having the most pit bulls.
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.
Fifteen people had been killed by dogs in the 10 years before the Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in 1991, according to the Office of National Statistics. As well as banning pit bulls, the Dangerous Dogs Act 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. But “Staffordshires,” historically recognized as pit bulls, were –under pressure from a coalition of Staffordshire breeders and humane organizations — exempted from the Dangerous Dogs Act definition of a pit bull.
There were six dog attack fatalities in the U.K. from 1992 through 1996, eight from 1997 through 2001, 17 from 2002 through 2006, 19 from 2007 through 2011, and through October 14, 2016, have already been 19 since 2012.
“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.”
John P. Colby
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.
U.S. & British data compared
At least 24 Staffordshires 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.). Twenty-four fatal & disfiguring attacks in the U.K. are therefore proportionally equivalent 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 seven consecutive years, from 74 in 2007 to 604 in 2014.
Name usage compared
Surveying reports of 1,880 cruelty and neglect cases, dog attack cases, and dogfighting cases in October 2013, ANIMALS 24-7 found the same dogs described as both Staffordshires and pit bulls in 1,506 cases, or 80%.
In 422 dogfighting cases involving Staffordshires, the same dogs were described as pit bulls in 415 cases: 98%.
In 1,223 attacks involving Staffordshires, the same dogs were identified as pit bulls in 1,017 cases: 83%.