Hundreds of “dangerous” dogs have been killed after being seized by police this year, new figures reveal – but concerns have been raised that many were “needlessly euthanised”.
A Sky News investigation has found more than 1,500 dogs have been destroyed after being detained under the Dangerous Dogs Act in the UK since 2019.
But the RSPCA warned many dogs were being put down under the controversial law “without any concerns about their behaviour”.
Four breeds are banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act; the Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro, but other types can be seized if they are dangerously out of control.
Last month 10-year-old Jack Lis was mauled to death in Caerphilly, South Wales, by a dog identified as an American bully or XL bully – which is not among the UK’s four banned breeds.
His death came after nine-year-old Frankie MacRitchie, from Plymouth, was killed in April 2019 by an American bulldog/Staffordshire bull terrier cross, a breed also not banned.
On Wednesday, a 55-year-old man died after being attacked by a dog in Angus in Scotland – but the breed has not been confirmed.
Dr Sam Gaines, dog welfare specialist at the RSPCA, has urged the government to overhaul the Dangerous Dogs Act, which was introduced in 1991, and end “breed-specific legislation”.
She said dogs were being seized and put down “on the basis of how they look” and “the vast majority of them won’t pose a risk to public safety”.
Dr Gaines told Sky News: “We’ve had the legislation for 30 years and we’re still seeing dogs needlessly being euthanised.
“These dogs are ultimately being euthanised because they happen to look a certain way. They’re not being euthanised because their behaviour poses a public risk.
“There is no breed of dog that is inherently aggressive.
“Whether or not you see aggressive behaviour in a dog comes down to how they’ve been bred, how they’ve been reared and their lifetime experiences.”
What does the data show?
At least 5,333 dogs have been seized by police under the Dangerous Dogs Act since 2019, according to data provided by 29 forces.
A total of 1,525 “dangerous” dogs were destroyed in the same period – including 425 between January and November this year, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act show.
The total number of “dangerous” dogs seized and destroyed is likely to be much higher as Britain’s biggest force, the Metropolitan Police, refused to answer on cost grounds, as did Gwent Police, which investigated Jack Lis’s death.
Meanwhile, Police Scotland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) said they did they did not hold data on the seizure of dangerous dogs.
Of the forces to respond to Sky News, West Midlands Police seized the most “dangerous” dogs with 1,465 in the last three years, while 359 dogs were destroyed in the same period.
West Yorkshire Police said it had detained 467 dogs since 2019, with 128 put down, while Merseyside Police seized 432 dogs and 95 were euthanised.
Overall, the figures suggested the number of dogs seized and destroyed under the Dangerous Dogs Act has fallen each year since 2019, which Dr Gaines said “could well be an impact of the pandemic”.
‘No vet wants to euthanise a healthy dog because of the way they look’
Dr Gaines said the RSPCA had been forced to euthanise 310 dogs since 2016 because they were banned breeds.
She told Sky News that in many cases the dogs were “victims of cruelty and neglect” and they could have made “very good, friendly family pets”.
“It’s very traumatic for our staff and vets,” Dr Gaines added.
“No vet wants to euthanise a healthy dog just because they happen to look a particular way. It’s a huge emotional burden.
“It’s also really traumatic for owners who in lots of cases very innocently acquire a puppy at eight weeks… and then this dog happens to grow into a dog that looks like a prohibited type.
“It’s deeply upsetting.”
Calls for dog owner licences and compulsory training
Dr Gaines said the RSPCA has called for pet owners to need a licence to own a dog, which would involve a small annual fee, to help improve safety.
A government-commissioned report found earlier this month that owners, not breeds, were to blame for dog attacks.
The study, by Middlesex University, pointed out that Jack Russell terriers, labradors and German shepherds had been involved in biting incidents, and it recommended that owners are given compulsory training as a condition of purchasing a dog.
It comes after a parliamentary committee warned in 2018 that some legal dog breeds can pose the same risk to public safety as illegal breeds.
Then, the environment, food and rural affairs committee called for a review of the UK’s dangerous dog laws which it said failed to protect the public.
What does the government say?
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told Sky News: “Dog attacks can have horrific consequences which is why it is a criminal offence to allow any dog – not just banned breeds – to be dangerously out of control.
“We welcome the findings of the Middlesex University report, and will be working with police and stakeholders to consider the recommendations further.”