The issue of dangerous dogs was considered by Parliament in the late eighties. The outcome was the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This piece of legislation gave us breed specific prohibitions. Four types of dogs were affected by the new law. The most common in the UK is the Pit Bull Terrier.
One can well understand the concern of Parliament. Stories of dog attacks seemed to be ubiquitous at the time. The perception of the nation was that our streets were full of aggressive and dangerous dogs fighting each other and anybody who crossed them Fawn Doberman.
Parliament faced a difficulty however. The Pit Bull Terrier has never been recognised by the UK Kennel Club. For that reason no breed standard existed in the UK for this type of animal. Parliament legislated against a type of dog known as Pit Bull Terrier to deal with that problem and S1 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits their ownership. A dog with no breed standard became subject to breed specific legislation. Still worse, at that time any dog offending against S1 Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 was automatically destroyed.
Many dogs seized from their owners under this provision have affectionate temperaments and exemplary conduct. This legislation focuses not upon the conduct of the dog but upon a judgement about its physical appearance and whether it conforms to the test in question.
The test is perverse. These dogs have no breed standard in the UK. The Pit Bull Terrier was, however, recognised by the American Kennel Club. A magazine exists in the USA called Pit Bull Gazette. Volume 1, Issue 3 1977 carried an article which set down the breed standard for these dogs. There are a certain number of characteristics that must be met before a dog can be said to meet the breed standard. UK police officers are using that test to ascertain whether a dog is prohibited under S1 Dangerous Dogs Act. Effectively, a breed standard is being applied to a dog that has no breed standard in the UK. The case of Brock & Dunne set down that a prohibited dog is an ‘animal approximately to, near to or having a substantial number of characteristics of the Pit Bull Terrier’. On that basis a dog need only have a substantial number of characteristics identified in the 1977 edition of Pit Bull Gazette to offend in the UK.
The law rests upon the premise that a Pit Bull Terrier is any more likely to behave in a dangerous way than any other dog. Some members of the criminal underworld have, indeed, selected these dogs to bolster their aggressive image. Any other large and powerful dog will do that just as well however.
It is encouraging to note that the Dangerous Dogs Amendment Act 1997 does allow dogs that are the subject of prosecutions to survive in some instances. Even a dog that is said to be of the type of Pit Bull Terrier can be placed upon the Index of Exempted Dogs and spared destruction.