Battersea sees 'shocking' rise in stray aggressive dogs

Hundreds of aggressive dogs are being put down despite being healthy because they are unsuitable to rehome, the UK's oldest animal shelter has said.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home had to put down about one third of the dogs it took in last year - a total of 2,815 animals, of which 1,931 were healthy.

The charity says a growing number are put down because their behaviour means they pose a safety risk.

The shelter says the issue of stray, aggressive dogs needs to be addressed.

'Enough is enough'

Scott Craddock, director of operations, told the BBC's Panorama that the figures were "shocking".

He said he believed animal rescue centres were being left to "mop up" a problem created by wider society.

"We need to highlight exactly what is going on and we feel we've come to a point where enough is enough," he said.

The home does not turn away stray or unwanted dogs and rehomes or returns about 5,000 a year.

It is the first time since the mid-1990s that the home has released details of the number of healthy dogs being destroyed.

"What people are doing to some of these dogs and the state they are coming in to us is completely unacceptable," he said.

He added that all dogs coming into the home were thoroughly assessed to check if they could be safely rehomed.

For those deemed suitable there is no time limit on a dog's stay, as some can take many months to attract new owners.

Staffordshire bull terriers - "Staffies" - and dogs crossbred with them, are among the most common found in kennels at Battersea.

The home has centres in central London, Old Windsor in Berkshire, and Brands Hatch in Kent.

'Status' dogs

Officials say the number of Staffies coming into Battersea has leapt 850% since 1996 and they often lack basic training that allows them to get along with other dogs or sometimes even people.

Dog wardens in many parts of the country have also reported rising numbers of stray Staffies in recent years. Animal shelters, which do not discriminate on intake, are full of them.

Yet pet shops and breeders are still able to sell young Staffies for hundreds of pounds. While pups are in demand, adults are in surplus.

The tragedy for the Staffie is that it looks similar to the pit bull, now banned under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

Hard-looking dogs have become a status symbol, and Staffies - once regarded simply as a loyal family pet - have become a victim of that fashion.

Sgt Ian McParland of the Metropolitan Police has witnessed the trend.

"Staffies are lovely family dogs. But they're crossing them... and kids are breeding all sorts now. They're obviously trying to create a pit bull a lot of the time but a lot of the offshoots of that get abandoned."

However, animal welfare organisations believe the problem with unwanted dogs goes beyond one breed.

Dog licences

The RSPCA, the UK's largest animal charity, said it had been forced to close its doors to the increasing number of discarded animals in order to concentrate on rescuing those genuinely at risk of cruelty.

"Last year, 2009, we killed 533 healthy dogs," said the RSPCA's Tim Wass.

"And you'll notice I used the word 'kill' there, rather than 'put to sleep' or 'humanely euthanise'.

"There's been enough euphemism, we really need to tell it how it is."

Mr Wass said he believed some dog owners took more responsibility for their furniture than their dogs, and blamed "uncontrollable breeding, the lack of responsibility, and the lack of duty of care" for the problem.

Image caption The number of Staffordshire bull terriers and crosses coming in to Battersea has leapt 850% since 1996

"The buck has to stop somewhere, and too often… it is the needle in the hands of an RSPCA officer and that has got to be wrong."

According to a recent survey by the University of Bristol, the dog population in Britain has risen to 10 million.

Battersea, the Metropolitan Police and the RSPCA are all lobbying government to introduce a registration or licence scheme paid for by the owner which would reliably link a dog to the person responsible for it.

But the government fears a licence might just end up taxing the careful dog owner and leave the irresponsible untouched.

In an interview, Department of Food, Rural Affairs and Agriculture Under-Secretary Lord Henley, who is responsible for dangerous dogs, said he was "not convinced" a dog licence was the way forward.

"We've had licences in the past and we all know what's happened to that - a great deal of non-compliance."

Panorama: Britain's Unwanted Pets, BBC One, Monday, 2 August at 2030 BST and then available in the UK on the BBC iPlayer.

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