Cases of illegal dogs being kept as family pets are on the rise in Wales, posing a serious risk to the public. But specialist police officers are on their tail.
At South Wales Police, the dog section not only trains police dogs - but also tries to keep a lid on the number of dangerous dogs being kept by private owners.
The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 not only prohibits any dog from being dangerously out of control in a public place, but also bans the ownership, breeding, sale and exchange of four types of fighting dogs: Pit Bull Terriers, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasiliero.
These dogs are bred for fighting and causing injury, mostly to other animals. The more their ownership increases, the greater the potential risk to the public.
Last year in Wales the number of incidents concerning dangerous dogs rose dramatically. In 2009, South Wales Police seized just two dogs. This figure rose to 103 seizures in 2010. By February this year, 11 dogs had already been taken into custody.
X-Ray joined officers as they carried out a dawn raid at a property in Swansea after receiving a tip-off from a concerned member of the public, who had reason to believe a dangerous dog was being kept there. The officers knocked on the door and asked the owner if he had any pit bull terriers. They decided to seize the two dogs for closer inspection.
Dangerous dogs have become something of a status symbol, being used to safeguard criminal houses and drug dens. There has also been a disturbing increase in cases of dog fighting.
The police may seize a dog by obtaining a warrant under the Dangerous Dogs Act if they think it is a banned breed. The maximum penalty for possessing a dangerous dog is a fine of £5,000 or six months’ imprisonment, and in some cases, both.
Sergeant Ian Roderick of South Wales Police gave X-Ray exclusive access to the secure kennels at a secret location deep in the Welsh countryside. This is where the police keep dogs who have been seized because they could be dangerous. At the kennels, officers assess the dogs’ breed and behaviour. Sgt Roderick needs to work out how much of a risk each new arrival poses to the public.
Sgt Roderick told X-Ray: “If the owner is responsible, we don’t think they or the dog is going to pose a danger, then we can apply to the courts to return the dog. Ultimately if it’s not, if the dog is dangerous or it’s an irresponsible owner then the court can order destruction.”
If a court decides a dog is not a danger to the public, it can be returned to its owner and put on the government’s index of exempted dogs.
Strict conditions are applied if an owner is given a licence to keep an illegal dog. It must be neutered, microchipped and tattooed with its licence number. It must be muzzled in public places and the owner must take out insurance.
Sgt Roderick said: “It’s always nice to see a dog going back to its owner, seeing the happiness. But on the other hand, there’s always that concern about these dogs.”