Charities concerned over dog laws
Planned new measures to clamp down on dangerous dogs could "cause more problems than they solve", vets and animal charities have told ministers.
Calls for tough action have been fuelled by the death this week of 14-year-old Jade Anderson who was attacked by a pack of dogs at a house in Greater Manchester.
But the six leading organisations said they were "extremely concerned" about a Home Office move to put dog measures in anti-social behaviour legislation rather than a dedicated Bill.
Their joint letter was sent before the teenager's death and experts are keen to avoid the sort of knee-jerk response that led to the notorious 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act. Since 2007 dogs have killed seven people, including five children, in private homes and the NHS also spends more than £3 million annually treating dog attack injuries. The Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee last month said the Government had "comprehensively failed" to tackle irresponsible dog ownership.
It said the Home Office approach was "too simplistic and fails to reflect the impact that poor breeding and training by irresponsible owners can have on a dog's behaviour. And it added that separate proposals for compulsory dog microchipping and owners to be opened to prosecution for attacks on private property were "belated" and "woefully inadequate".
In their letter, the British Veterinary Association, the Blue Cross, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust, the Kennel Club and the RSPCA backed the committee's call for the existing legislation to be brought together and improved in a single Bill.
They told Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne they were "very concerned" at the proposed replacement of Dog Control Orders with less specific anti-social behaviour measures. Allowing untrained council workers or police community support officers to issue orders "could lead to compromises in animal welfare or even make dog behaviour worse due to lack of understanding in these areas", it added.
It could also "lull communities into a false sense of security around dogs and not actually address the real problem - irresponsible owners". They added: "This could lead to greater division within communities and potentially marginalise all dog owners - even those trying to be responsible."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The draft Anti Social Behaviour Bill is about giving victims, who often feel powerless, a voice. We want to ensure the police, councils and housing providers have more effective powers to deal with anti-social behaviour.
"That is why we are slashing the existing plethora of tools and powers from 19 to six. The new streamlined powers will be faster, more flexible and crucially will allow professionals to stop ASB and seek to change behaviour."