Too much dogging

I hate dogs. I hate their smell and slobber, I'm not that into the way they poo on pavements, and I even really dislike the way they breathe. All panty and eager. They breathe with far too much vigour.

A charming pitbull. ©Moumen sf

Despite my hope that I'm strong-minded enough to think outside of this abhorring paradigm, I'll accept now that there's a high possibility that it will taint my response to the issues thrown up by the Dangerous Dogs Act. I'll try my best to be objective, but it's not my fault that dogs are really horrible.

John-Paul Massey, aged four, was attacked and killed by a pitbull in Liverpool in 2009. Though an illegal breed under the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, the pitbull had been, nevertheless, a “trusted family pet”. The pitbull, nevertheless, mauled its trusting four-year-old owner to death. This is because dogs, even domesticised ones, have the capacity – the tools (strength and teeth) and nature (of an animal) - to kill people.

Six children and two adults have been mauled to death by domestic dogs since 2006. That's not that many fatal maulings perhaps, in a country wherein 23% of households own a dog. Eight deaths in just over five years in a country with over 10 million dogs. Not that many fatal maulings that is, if you think it's merely a question of statistics.

Eight deaths by dogs is still far too many for me, and probably should be for anyone with a basic sense of the worth of human life. One death would be horribly more than ample, thanks.

It's not just deaths: the NHS states that in 2011, 6,005 adults and children were admitted to hospitals for injuries resulting from being "bitten or struck by a dog", a number which has increased each year for the last half decade. This is despite the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, which has been generally branded a failure; rushed, ineffectual and unenforceable.

The Act has been under review and the the long-awaited report with recommendations for amendments or entirely new legislation is due in the coming weeks. As far as I see it, the main thing missing in England (this is a devolved issue), is a dog licence.

Because the problem with domestic dogs is a broader one than emotive instances of rare (though terrible) deaths. It's also a question of economics. Some dog-owners feel maligned by the idea of a payable licence, describing it as 'a tax on responsible owners', only necessary due to a few irresponsible owners and their exceptionally violent pups.

I'm all for autonomy, including the right to harbour potentially lethal animals. If you want a dog, go for it. But don't dismiss a dog licence because it 'discriminates against dog-owners'. External costs, that is costs to the public, of canines include a £3.3 million hit to the NHS, a princely £2.8 million resulting from attacks on livestock, and a genuinely whopping £14.6 million bill for dog-caused road traffic accidents.

On top of this not-so-measly tally, a properly-funded, comprehensive dog warden service, which the government is considering to cover the cost of everything from dog fouling to kenneling blood-thirsty, general public threatening hounds, would cost £46 million. Why should people who have no interest in dogs foot this bill?

I'm sure responsible dog-owners can see how the (admittedly slightly unfair) solution of all dog-owners all paying for dog-related public costs, is still more just than everyone (even people like me who hate dogs, and also less aggressive non-dog owners) paying for them. A licence would, according to the RSPCA, cost around £15 a year: just 2% of the average annual cost of keeping a dog.

But with two thirds of dog-owners in favour of a dog licence, I'm preaching to the choir here. It's just the choir master (that is, the government, in this stumbling extended metaphor) who's dithering unaccountably in introducing this scheme. But maybe, hopefully, the impending report will address this.

A dog-owner's licence is the only really viable means of addressing not only the dangerous dog debacle, but also a key way of improving the welfare of those gross creatures (an advance which, despite my vitriolic rhetoric, I am all for). It would encourage responsible breeding of an animal which has a large, negative environmental impact and a big price tag for charities dealing with the unwanted ones. What's not to love? Well. Dogs. But I've said that fairly comprehensively now.



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