Monday, September 15, 2008

The New Knife on the Street?

I've been meaning to post about an interesting fringe I attended at Green Party Conference last week, with speakers from the RSPCA and a sergeant from the Met Police's dog support unit.

A lot of what they said rang true and reflected concerns raised by local residents in Ladywell and Brockley. They talked about the increasing number of 'status dogs', in particular the issue of people having dogs to bolster their 'tough' image, designed to impress or scare other people. In some cases, of course, people have these dogs to make themselves feel safer, a bit like those who carry knives mistakenly do.

The RSPCA officer also talked about the shortfalls she saw in the current Dangerous Dogs legislation and what changes she felt were needed to make it more effective. The RSPCA is arguing that the emphasis should be on 'the deed rather than the breed' and on irresponsible dog owners. They are also arguing that Police Forces need more resources to deal with the increase in incidents involving dangerous dogs, as well as more easily enforceable legislation.

Apparently there are more pitbulls in the UK now than there were when the Dangerous Dogs Act came into force and the most commonly abandoned breed of dog at Battersea Dogs Home and elsewhere now is the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as owners who think they are getting a 'hard' dog get disgruntled when they find out that it is actually a bit of a softie who likes to roll over and get its stomach tickled.

Worryingly, there has been a huge increase in the number of incidents of anti-social behaviour involving dogs in London over the past few years. Between 2002-2005 there were an average of 42 seizures of dogs a year. In 2006 this jumped to 173 and then more than doubled in 2007 at 481 seizures a year. Since 1st April this year there have already been more than 280 dogs seized by the 20 qualified dog handlers working for the police across London.

There has been a big increase in backstreet breeding, with horrific cases of 30 or more pitbull puppies being found in cages in tiny flats. There has also been an increase in chain fighting, where owners encourage their dogs to fight with other dogs while on a lead, as well as organised dog fighting, and ring barking, where dogs are trained by tearing the bark off trees, which can kill the tree. There has also been an increase in the number of dogs being used to protect criminal assets. The police officer also talked about the number of people trying to take dogs to festivals, such as the Notting Hill Carnival.

The police are struggling to cope with the increased workload they have and the extra kennelling fees they accrue from all the extra dog seizures. Many Councils have insufficient animal welfare officers to deal with the situation. Lewisham, with two animal welfare officers, is apparently better staffed than other boroughs, but still over-stretched, with the vast majority of their time spent dealing with stray dogs, which leaves little time for awareness-raising or enforcement action against irresponsible dog owners.

However, Lewisham may soon benefit from joining the BARK scheme (Borough Action for responsible K9s - yes, someone had fun coming up with that acronym), which was piloted with succcess in Brent. The RSPCA officer also said that they could come and do an Community Animal Action Week (CAAW) in the area, which they run in conjunction with local Safer Neighbourhood Teams and housing associations. As well as offering advice to residents on looking after their dogs, they also offer free microchipping and neutering of pets.

It is certainly an issue that needs to be monitored closely in Lewisham and action take where appropriate. I know that in Ladywell people have raised a number of concerns about dogs, ranging from irresponsible owners who don't clean up after their dog has fouled and dogs that are not kept under control in public spaces. There have been a number of appalling incidents in and around Algernon Road, where 4 pet cats have been mauled to death by dogs in the past 18 months, in some cases with the dog owners watching.


Shasha Khan said...

Hi Sue,

Very interesting piece. I wish had made it to this fringe.

The other day, whilst waiting for a train on the platform at Selhurst station, I overheard a bizarre conversation:

On my left were two teenage boys aged 15/16. On my right was a teenage boy (15/16) with a pitbull of some description, struggling to hang on to the lead.

One of the boys to the left shouted to the boy on the right.
"You selling?"
My wife and I wondered if this was something to do with drugs.
The boy replied, "Nah"
Almost immediately the boys then said, "Oh so you're breeding it.", to which the boy replied, "It's not mine."

This conversation was a real opener to the levels this, "new knife on the street" phenomenon may have reached.

I agree. Local authorities need to be properly up to speed and have the capacity to address this rapidly growing phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments Shasha!

mrsnormal said...


A new arena for the war on the planet: biting trees to death. What next? Ambushing tulips? Parching lawns? It's a terrifying prospect for the plant world. It's also really sad that in this country, we have a culture that seems to equate 'male' with 'aggressive and brutal'. I know of no other culture where you have to be a killer to be a 'real man.' Very useful when we had an empire to conquer and defend: not so useful now it's our own territory they're laying waste. Thanks for the insight - may I use it on my own blog?

Anonymous said...

Sure, go ahead Mrs Normal. I enjoy your blog, btw.

William Canynge said...

I blogged on this a while ago. I kind of knew that this was an issue without having the evidence to hand to make it anything other than an unsubstantiated rant. I think the sad fact is that if you are the kind of person who owns a dog just so you can intimidate people then you are not the sort of person who is going to be amenable to persuasion of your impact on others.

You quite like your impact upon others.

Sadly, I feel that this issue needs the application of sticks more than carrots.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment William. There is the intimidation factor, and also the kids who have dogs to look tought because they're scared of being attacked. The woman from the RSPCA seemed to think that the carrot (the animal awareness weeks on estates, with free micro-chipping, neutering and info about responsible dog ownership) reaped better rewards than simply going in heavy-handed, but at the same time they wanted the stick of changes to legilsation which would put the onus on owners to look after their pets.

Pete said...

I don't think all young men have these dogs to intimidate them, they're fashionable just like hooded tops.

Anonymous said...

@ Pete: True enough, and there are also dogs that look aggressive but aren't necessarily, like Staffs, but either way it can be intimidating if they come charging up to you in a park, particularly if you have small children with you.

weggis said...

Never mind "status dogs", its the small yappie type ones that bother me. As any leafletter will know the big ones bark when you walk down the path, so you know they are there. But these small yappy bastards stay quiet until you put your fingers throught the letter box and then they gotcha.
I'm tempted to buy a Tazer. I know where they live!

William Canynge said...

I am sure that not all owners of the various bull terrier variants picked these dogs to be intimidatory, but a significant proportion of them have.

Deb G said...

I think much more needs to be done to police irresponsible dog owners. Dogs owners don't keep dogs on leads even on main roads, my puppy was attacked on ladywell road by an unleashed staffordshire bull terrier. Dog fouling is also out of control. I am a responsible dog owner who picks up after my dog but I often have to pick up dog mess outside my house left by other dogs. I am pregnant and this is a serious health hazard. I think we need more dog bins and not just in parks, parks aren't the only place dogs poo!

Anonymous said...

Deb I agree with you, but there is of course a cost attached to all the extra enforcement, that has to come from somewhere, and probably from council tax.