The Dangerous Dogs Act was drafted in 1991 in what many at the time called a reactionary move following a spate of dog attacks, particularly on children. The act dealt largely in breed-specific legislation which initially criminalised the ownership, sale, exchange and breeding of certain “dangerous dogs”, and called for their mandatory destruction.
If a dog is suspected of being one of these explicitly forbidden breeds (Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Filo Brasilieros, Japanese Tosas) it can be seized, with legal proceedings brought against the owner. This is also true of any dogs that could be of a type bred specifically for fighting i.e. any crosses of these breeds. The owner must prove in court that the dog is not one of the banned types. If they do so (which usually requires a report from a breed expert) the dog and the owner win the case. Failing this, they could prove to the court that they are a responsible owner and the dog is of good temperament. In this instance, the owner may be granted a special exemption which allows them to keep the dog so long as they are neutered, microchipped, muzzled and on a lead in public, and not allowed to stray. If the owner is unable to satisfy either of these conditions they could be prosecuted, and the dog is likely to be destroyed.
The legislation has been widely criticised for vilifying certain breeds and pandering to a panicked public without enough thought. Later amendments (in 1997 and 2014) have extended the act to mean that any dog who is found to be “dangerously out of control” or attacks someone, on public or private property, is prosecutable and their owners are also liable. Depending on the outcome of court proceedings, the dog could be restricted by various measures or ordered to be destroyed. The owner could face a fine or be jailed.
The act is controversial, with dog lovers and animal charities having mixed views on the legislation. Our survey showed that pet owners consider the Dangerous Dogs Act to be their third most important animal welfare issue.