Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Doggy ASBOs

As of yesterday (20th October) the law was changed in England and Wales to provide an extra level of support to those dealing with problem dogs. While the new laws seem like a very good idea on paper, I have to admit to a little scepticism about the merits of the changes in practice.

I like that there is a non statutory component to the recommended way of dealing with dogs causing issues in their community (such as "acceptable behaviour contracts") because for any owner who has the dog's welfare at heart there's less of a social and financial burden to bear in being issued with a contract imposing certain conditions, rather than being taken to court. This is likely to increase compliance, rather than have the owner simply give up and have the dog rehomed or put to sleep - and practical application of the ABC by Eastleigh Council and Hampshire Police shows this to be the case. with 15 contracts in place and 15 dogs with improved behaviour that are no longer an inconvenience to their community.

My concern comes (as with any law related to dogs) with that small percentage of owners who have the dog as a tool or status symbol and treat it as disposable, rather than a member of the family. In much the same way that these dogs are unlikely to be microchipped when the law on identification changes, neither are they likely to be taken to a training class, or walked only at specified times.

If the non statutory approach does not work, then problems can be escalated via Community Protection Notices (I'm not a lawyer, but these look similar to an ASBO for people); an Injunction or a Criminal Behaviour Order (primarily where someone is using the dog for intimidation or has trained it to fight) .
The new legislation also allows the creation of Public Space Protection Orders, which prevent or require certain activities in specified areas (e.g no dogs in kids' play areas, dogs must be on leads etc) and are used much as Dog Control Orders were historically.

The down side to yet more dog-behaviour related legislation is it requires more knowledge to ensure that remedial action is taken via the most appropriate path way. For a lot of low-level irritation to the community (an owner persistently allowing a dog to foul, dogs that can escape and stray at will) these approaches create an addition to the local council or local police's arsenal, where previously their options were "do nothing" or "escalate via Dangerous Dogs Act or Dogs Act into the Court system", so in that case the advantage is fairly clear. For other issues (bites, damage) the issue is less clear cut.

That said, hopefully the new rules will decrease the cost and increase the efficiency of dealing with nuisance dogs, and thereby bring the average level of dog behaviour across the country up. One of the problems of being a responsible dog owner, or at least trying to be, is that often we don't get the benefit of the doubt because someone's mind is already made up on dogs due to unpleasant experience in the past. If this could be minimised, interactions between dog people and non dog people could be an awful lot less fraught.

Press release from gov.uk
Guidance on the administration of the new scheme

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