On the day when the law changes to criminalise the owners of dogs deemed to be dangerously out of control on private, as well as public, property it is interesting to note that the 2013 NHS figures for hospital admissions as a result of dog bite (or strike) show another an annual increase of 6% http://www.hscic.gov.uk/4722
They include the sobering statistics that children under 10 continue to be group that suffers most, with 1160 bitten: 862 on the face or head, 526 requiring plastic surgery, 376 requiring special oral/facial surgery and 3 amputation of the hand/wrist.
It is interesting to note that for the first time the figures have been broken down into the most and least deprived regions of England, and Surprise-Surprise! You are three times more likely to be bitten by a dog if you live in one of the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived.
This is clearly NOT a “dog problem” or a “criminal problem” as parliament would have us believe, but a society problem. People don’t want their dogs to bite them (or anybody else) and the vast majority would prevent it if only they knew how. The answer is emphatically NOT to criminalise people in their own homes, but to educate.
Criminal prosecutions are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted and do nothing to address the problem. There are some great resources and templates out there, but we need a joined-up government-led national programme of education about dog ownership, starting with children in schools, but also aimed at all potential and current dog-owners.
It has to be backed up by a solid licensing system that includes identification (compulsory microchipping comes in in 2016), a national database, annual renewal, health checks, insurance, and a realistic cost that operates on a sliding scale, reducing on a no-claims basis each year. Breeding too needs to be regulated. To prevent mass-dumpings on introduction, it could be phased in over five to ten years, staring with a voluntary system and working towards the compulsory.
Until that is in place, we are just tinkering at the edges and will fail to achieve significant improvements (it’s getting worse at the rate of 5% each year!) You can’t buy a gun, a knife or even glue without jumping through hoops; you have to have license to use a TV, and a test, licence, tax and insurance to drive a car, but you can go out and buy or adopt a dog for little or no cost, with no idea how to look after one, and turn it into something with the potential to injure or even kill a person; not intentionally, but through lack of care or knowledge.
I’m told Politicians don’t want to be the ogre that brings in the dog licence (“another tax”!). Well, it is about time one of them grew some and grasped the nettle. Okay, if you want to see it as a tax, it is a tax on irresponsible dog ownership. It is a tax we are all currently paying (cost to the NHS is estimated to be well over £3million each year – cost in strays, rehoming, police time, killing dangerous dogs – incalculable, but certainly tens of millions). I’d rather be up front and say, “It costs society for you to own a dog, and if you aren’t prepared to pay, don’t have a dog”.
It also costs dogs, as individuals and as a species. By my back-of-a-fag-packet calculations reckon that in the region of 20,000 dogs are killed each year because of their aggressive behaviour. We bred them, brought them up and trained them to be like that. We owe them more, and we are failing in our responsibility.