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In context: control of dogs legislation

Dangerous dog - Image credit: Shutterstock

In context: control of dogs legislation

In July 2019 the Public Audit and Post-Legislative Scrutiny Committee published a report on its review of the effectiveness of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. Its conclusion was that current dog control legislation is “not fit for purpose” and the act had been ineffective in preventing or reducing the number of dog attacks in Scotland. Following up from this, earlier this month the committee invited public safety minister Ash Denham to give evidence on what action had been taken on its recommendations.

What had the committee recommended?

The committee said it was the hardest hitting report it had ever published because of the seriousness of the injuries and called the situation “nothing less than a national crisis”. It made 21 recommendations. The committee said there needed to be an urgent review of all dog control legislation. It also called for the creation of a dog control notice database and said there should be a requirement for GPs, hospitals, councils and the police to collect standardised data on out of control dog incidents and attacks by dogs on humans and other dogs, a review of the number of dog wardens and their training, awareness raising, new legislation creating an offence of obstruction to give local authorities more powers to act, and consideration of dog licensing, looking at the models currently in place in Ireland and Sweden.

What has the Scottish Government done?

The Scottish Government has set up a working group with local authorities, COSLA, Police Scotland and other stakeholders including a victims’ voice representing survivors of dog attacks. Denham said the group meets regularly to consider and progress the report’s recommendations. Out of the 21 recommendations five have now been delivered, one partially delivered, 14 are in progress and one not started. There was an awareness raising campaign last year and a further campaign is planned. The government has reviewed the 2010 act and also published a discussion paper that looks at how the criminal law in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 may be improved, with a consultation on that running until 30 April. It has updated the statutory guidance and there is funding for pilot scheme to increase number of dog wardens in a couple of local authorities next year. The Improvement Service has looked the feasibility of a national dog control notice database and the aim is to have that set up by the end of this year.

However you look at it, 7,000 people had to attend A&E to seek treatment following a dog attack and that’s completely unacceptable. If this was drunken drivers mowing down 7,000 people on the streets, then I think there would be a bit more than a working group put together – Colin Beattie MSP

What did the committee think of the actions taken?

Committee members were distinctly unimpressed with progress, raising concerns in particular about the continuing lack of accurate data on dog attacks on humans and other dogs, the poor engagement from councils and the absence of a notable increase in dog wardens. Graham Simpson said the progress “isn’t good enough”, while Jenny Marra said the committee was “really quite frustrated” about it. “Frankly, I’ve run out of optimism that the Scottish Government is going to do anything,” she said and asked if there was any scope for “just getting on with it” rather than having working groups.

How does dog control legislation work elsewhere?

Republic of Ireland: In Ireland, all dogs must wear a collar with the owner’s details. Dogs must be microchipped by 12 weeks old and licensed from four months. Licences are controlled by the local authority. Dog wardens can request the name and address of anyone suspected of an offence under the Control of Dogs Act, seize and detain any dog, and enter any premises other than a private residence to seize a dog. On the spot fines of €100 can be given for no licence, no identification on the dog or a dog that is out of control. You can be arrested for obstructing a dog warden, refusing to give a name and address to a dog warden or giving a false details.

Northern Ireland: All dogs in Northern Ireland must be microchipped at eight weeks old and licensed by the local authority, with licences lasting 12 months.

Sweden: All dogs need to be microchipped with an identity number and recorded in the dog register of the Swedish Board of Agriculture by the time they are four months old.

Elsewhere: Spain, the Netherlands and New Zealand also require dog registration. In Spain all dogs must be microchipped and registered, but there are additonal licence requirements for potentially dangerous breeds including proof that the dog has been vaccinated, that the owner has public liability insurance, that the dog has been on a training course and that the owner is mentally and physically fit to look after it. Dog licensing did previously exist in Scotland, England and Wales under the Dog Licences Act 1959, but this was abolished by the Local Government Act 1988.

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