New proposals in England and Wales could mean a life sentence in prison for someone whose dog fatally attacks a person.
Under the controversial Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA), which was introduced following attacks in 1991, an owner whose dog attacks someone in public currently faces two years in jail or fines, or both, but government officials are considering changes in an effort to stop attacks and encourage responsible dog ownership.
One of the major changes being considered is increasing the penalties for owners of dogs who attack, which some believe aren’t severe enough currently, especially in cases where people have died. Officials have released a questionnaire that will be open until September 1 to ask the public what they believe the maximum sentence for owners of dogs who kill should be, which could be 7, 10 or 14 years in jail or even life imprisonment.
A 10 year sentence for owners of dogs who injure a person or kill a guide dog are also being recommended.
“Dog attacks are terrifying and we need harsh penalties to punish those who allow their dog to injure people while out of control. We’re already toughening up laws to ensure that anyone who owns a dangerous dog can be brought to justice, regardless of where a dog attack takes place. It’s crucial that the laws we have in place act as a deterrent to stop such horrific incidents,” said animal welfare minister Lord de Mauley.
The proposals follow numerous incidents, including the high-profile case of Jade Anderson who was killed at a friend’s residence this spring. No charges will be brought against the owner of the dogs in that case because it happened on private property, which is another aspect of the DDA that officials hope to change.
According to the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), the government acknowledged that a life sentence was severe and disproportionate to the offense, comparing it to sentences for causing a death by careless and dangerous driving, which are 5 and 14 years, respectively.
However, some are welcoming tougher sentences. According to the Guardian, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) that represents postal, utility and delivery workers, whose members suffer an estimated 5,000 attacks every year, and charity Guide Dogs, whose assistance dogs are currently suffering an average of ten attacks a month, both support such changes.
Whether or not they’re fatal, the issue of dog attacks is unquestionably serious, but some are concerned about whether increasing sentences after the fact will actually do anything to reduce the number of attacks, which have increased significantly since the DDA was passed.
“Unless you solve this problem of people not being able to control their dogs properly then I still think you’re going to see a rise in dog attacks and dog biting,” David Bowles, head of public affairs for the RSPCA, told the BBC.
Others are supporting Dog Control Notices, which would give authorities the ability to force owners of dogs with questionable behavior to go through a training program, use leashes and muzzles in public, or alter their property to decrease the likelihood of an attack, among other things, which animal advocates believe is key to helping prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
Anderson’s parents are welcoming changes to the law, but are also pushing for more preventative measures, including community education.
With children being the most common victims of bites, educating communities about basic dog behavior and teaching children how to interact with dogs could go so much farther in dealing with this issue than targeting breeds or throwing people in jail after it’s too late.
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