Should we always judge a breed by its cover?
For over three decades, Breed -Specific Legislation has been written into UK law. It is an undeniably complex and delicate issue. However, in recent years, there have been calls for significant change.
In 2022, the campaign reached new heights. The Dog Control Coalition supported by animal groups and charities including PETA and Blue Cross, has emerged as the number of dog attacks in the UK continues to rise, making for an interesting parallel.
While public safety is always paramount, are breeds solely to blame for these incidents? Should there be a shift in focus towards human behaviour instead? Ultimately, should we judge dogs based on what they do and not what they are?
Campaigners have been asking these questions since BSL came into law in 1991 in reaction to a spree of serious dog attacks in Britain.
The legislation refers to all laws designed to regulate or ban specific breeds. It is in place with good intentions – to keep the public safe and decrease life-threatening injuries and fatalities.
In the UK, the crux of the problem is that identifiable banned breeds cannot be re-homed. More often than not, they are put to sleep, which campaigners view as unjust.
A joint statement made by the coalition in a press release said: “We believe reform and consolidation of dog control legislation is long overdue and that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) needs to be repealed and replaced with breed neutral legislation. BSL is unfair and ineffective.”
However, with rising rates of dog attacks, BSL is understandable. In 2022, there were approximately 22,000 cases of violent incidents compared to 16,000 in 2018, showing a sharp increase. These numbers mean BSL is not working. Even with breed-discriminating laws in place, vicious and deadly incidents are only worsening.
Last June, this led to it being taken to parliament as the country’s most respected animal organisations including Dog’s Trust, Battersea and The Kennel Club, joined forces and voiced their support for ending the law.
The SSPCA was also involved in the group.
On BSL, Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent, Mike Flynn said: “We’d urge the government to review this legislation as it is now 30 years old… We want to see Section One of the legislation scrapped so that dogs are judged on ‘deed not breed’, meaning dogs are only put to sleep if they’ve attacked someone rather than just because they are a certain type of dog.”
The SSPCA would also like to see banned breeds in their care reach a point of rehoming to improve their quality of life.
“At the very least, we’d like to see the law amended so banned breeds and types who come in to our care can be rehomed,” says Flynn. “Our teams often care for these dogs for years while waiting for court proceedings to conclude, only to have to put them to sleep as they can’t legally be adopted.
“Often, these dogs have great temperaments and no behavioural issues but still need to be euthanised when, if they were any other breed, they’d be off to a loving home. It’s heart-breaking for everyone involved.”
Some canines will fall victim to BSL through no fault of their own. But the law is in place for a reason.
Pitbulls, Japanese tosas and dogo Argentinos are amongst the illegal-to-own-breed types deemed most dangerous. And that title is not unfounded.
American bulldogs, affectionately and commonly known as the “bully”, have caused nine deaths since 2021. “Bullies” have become increasingly popular and recognisable. Yet, they are responsible for half of all hound-related deaths in this country. On this basis, BSL is understandable, and safety should be paramount for all.
The issue for the coalition is that they believe a one size fits all approach is ineffective. Not every dog is the same.
The Scottish SPCA believes that any animal has the capacity to be dangerous. It is up to the human to be responsible for them.
Mike Flynn said: “While we fully support legislation to protect the public, we believe any breed of dog can be potentially out of control and dangerous in the wrong hands.
“We’d like to see a bigger focus on legislation that ensures responsible dog ownership rather than punishing individual dogs for the way they look if they haven’t harmed anyone.”
There’s no such thing as a “bad” breed, and regardless of which side of the fence people fall on, safety is the main thing, for animals and humans alike.
Following 2022’s developments, BSL is now at a critical stage in its development. We may see a move in the near future to dogs being judged on an individual basis and not for how they look.
As a vet from a local Lanarkshire Medical Practice said: “Our interest is treating the patient that’s in front of us”.
Members of the public can sign the SSPCA’s No Bad Breed petition here.