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13 November 2014
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Pit Bull Terrier type dog

Dangerous owners or dangerous dogs?

Dangerous dogs

It is 17 years since Britain introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act aimed at stopping attacks by so called 'devil dogs'. Since then hundreds of animals have been destroyed - yet every year about 70,000 people are still bitten by dogs.

In 2007  five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson died after being attacked by a Pit Bull Terrier on Merseyside.

Ellie Lawrenson c/o photo courtesy of Lawenson family

Ellie Lawrenson - killed by a dog.

She died of severe head and neck injuries after being mauled at her grandmother's house in St Helens.

Post-mortem tests showed the dog was a Pit Bull Terrier-type breed, prohibited by the Dangerous Dogs Act.

Now there are calls to stop putting the blame on dogs - and instead concentrate on educating the owners.

Fault of the breed?

In many inner city areas Pit Bull dogs are a new weapon, used for inflicting harm on others or for self protection.

Gangs can't legally carry knives or guns, but they can have 42 teeth on a lead.

Some would argue that the dogs are simply acting on their owners' commands, so is it the fault of the breed or the person on the end of the lead?

Walking the street with a Pit Bull is like walking the street with a loaded shotgun, according to some commentators.

And for many of their owners these dogs are also a status symbol, a fashion accessory.

Meet Zeebo

Zeebo is a full American Pit Bull - he's pure muscle on legs - and under the law he's an illegal dog.

Status dog

Pit-Bull type dogs are status symbols.

His owner has kept him as a pet for 11 years during which time he's been taken away and returned by the police and the RSPCA twice

On one occasion the owner was found not guilty of setting the dog on a police officer.

The owner says that he's a responsible pet lover, but admits that a lot of young lads abuse the dogs, making them wild and giving them a bad reputation.

He argues that a bad Pit Bull is one that's been turned mean either by training or conditioning by its owner.

Pit Bulls have also become synonymous with drug dealers - they're often used for self protection, as Zeebo's owner explains:

"When someone comes through your door, it's like having a loaded shotgun at your side."

Victims of dangerous dogs

Sonny Freeman was the victim of a vicious dog attack - he says the owners of the dog should have been jailed, and the dog destroyed.

Dangerous dogs

The Dangerous Dogs Act bans ownership, breeding, sale and exchange and advertising for sale of specified types of fighting dog.

The dogs covered are known as:

* Pit Bull Terrier
* Japanese Tosa
* Dogo Argentino
* Fila Braziliero

The maximum fine for illegal possession of a prohibited dog is £5,000 and/or six months' imprisonment. The dog can be destroyed but the courts have discretion to grant exemptions for seized dogs if they feel it would not compromise public safety.

The Act applies not only to "pure" Pit Bull Terriers but also to any dog "of the type known as the Pit Bull Terrier". This relates to dogs with the physical and behavioural characteristics of these dogs.

The main characteristics of a Pit Bull Terrier type are:

- muscular, smooth- haired dog
- square profile
- wedge shaped head viewed from top or side
- broad jawbones and strongly developed nostrils
- broad chest and deep ribcage
- muscular back and broad sloping hips

"Two guys with a pit-bull type terrier asked me for a cigarette. I said to them I haven't got one...," he recalls.

"They decided to say to this dog "see him", and it done bad, bad damage to my leg."

He isn't the only victim of a dog attack. In 2007 doctors at Alder Hey and Whiston Hospitals on Merseyside treated 460 victims of similar incidents.

Inside Out has also found out that pet dogs have been targeted and attacked in some of Liverpool's parks.

Michelle Gaffney has been a professional dog walker for three years and she confirmed the stories of killer dogs.

"I know people who had an old Jack Russell plodding along minding his own business.

"And the next minute two Pit Bulls ran over and ripped him to shreds, literally in front of the owner.

"He was covered in blood. He was absolutely traumatised as you would be."

Inside Out also discovered that a special breed of Pit Bull had been brought over from Ireland.

They are believed to have been bought from the Farmer's Boys, a network of criminal gangs who supply illegal pit bull terriers for fighting.

Although there is no suggestion that these dogs are used for fighting in Liverpool, they are amongst the most dangerous of breeds.

This type of dog has red eyes. Even other Pit Bull owners look at these dogs and keep theirs away from them.

However, one owner we spoke to claimed that there is nothing wrong with keeping these dogs:

"They wouldn't attack another dog... it does look more scary than what it is."

Owners to blame?

The Dangerous Dogs Act, which bans Pit Bulls, has been criticised by dog lovers and the police for being vague.

Carl John with dog

Carl John gets to grips with a dog.

Many people also think that we should be talking about dangerous owners, not dangerous dogs.

By the end of 2008 the Netherlands will have lifted its ban on Pit Bulls which was imposed about the same time as Britain's.

Instead the Dutch government will concentrate on educating owners, not eradicating dogs.

Should Britain do the same and can we trust owners to act responsibly?

We want your views...

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last updated: 25/09/2008 at 12:44
created: 17/09/2008

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