A PROPOSAL to reduce dangerous dog attacks by making it illegal to take certain breeds into public places without them being muzzled, or being on a short lead, was yesterday put before Scottish ministers.
A plea for new legislation to toughen dog-control laws was made by Labour MSP Paul Martin, who believes a list of restricted breeds should be drawn up, to impose special conditions on those who own dogs such as Rhodesian ridgebacks, German shepherds and rottweilers.
Owners of these dogs would be required to ensure they were only walked by people over the age of 16 capable of controlling them.
Mr Martin also called for potential owners of restricted breeds to be assessed to ensure they were able to look after more challenging types of dogs.
Other measures to stem the rising number of dog attacks, suggested by the MSP, included compulsory microchipping so all dogs could be traced to their owners or breeders.
In a member’s debate at Holyrood, Mr Martin said new legislation would help reduce and prevent dog attacks, which have increased by 17 per cent since 2010 in Scotland. Figures showed there were more than 1,000 reports of attacks by dogs last year.
The Labour MSP for Glasgow Provan said the lack of a compulsory microchipping or a mandatory licensing scheme suggested Scotland was not serious about animal ownership or welfare.
Mr Martin said: “Another measure that might be worth considering is the introduction of a restricted breeds list, similar to the Irish model.
“The list includes two of the breeds which are banned here in the UK, but also large breeds such as Rhodesian ridgebacks, German shepherds and Rottweilers. These dogs have not earned their place on the list because they are perceived to be any more or less aggressive than a Jack Russell or a Yorkshire terrier, but because their physical attributes – their weight, height and jaw strength – make them more of a threat to the public if they do fall into the hands of irresponsible owners.”
Mr Martin instigated the debate on dog controls in response to an attack on eight-year-old Broagan McCuaig.
Two American bulldogs savaged the schoolgirl, who lives in Mr Martin’s constituency, last October.
She suffered severe facial and leg injuries when a neighbour’s dogs attacked her outside her home.
Since the incident, the youngster has undergone a series of operations and was confined to a wheelchair because one of the dogs broke her leg.
Last November, four-year-old Lexi Hudson died after a bulldog which had been living with her family for only a few weeks attacked her in their Leicestershire home.
Mr Martin told parliament: “Broagan was attacked for six minutes while her rescuer, a grown man, punched and kicked the dogs that were mauling her.
“In other cases, members of the public have used baseball bats, crowbars and knives to free victims from the jaws of out-of-control dogs.”
Mr Martin argued an assessment scheme to determine whether potential owners of challenging breeds were fit to own them could be introduced.
The MSP said: “Following such attacks, it often transpires that the owners were not fit to have such powerful animals in the first place.”
Mr Martin’s move comes at a time when the behaviour of dogs has been put under the political spotlight.
First Minister Alex Salmond met Broagan’s parents, Tracy Cox and Neil McCuaig, and other dog-attack victims last month. The Scottish Government has launched a consultation and summit on responsible dog ownership.
Yesterday, Mr Salmond made a rare appearance at the member’s debate to listen to Mr Martin’s arguments.
Dog-control legislation has been passed by both Westminster and Holyrood.
The Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 makes it a criminal offence to allow any dog to be dangerously out of control in any place.
Mr Martin’s call for legislation to look at a list of restricted breeds met a lukewarm response from community safety minister Roseanna Cunningham. She said she had been bitten by a dog once: “It was a dachshund. I’m pretty sure a dachshund would never be listed.”
She was more enthusiastic about microchipping: “On a personal level, it’s hard to make an argument against mandatory microchipping in the current circumstances.”
The SNP MSP Christine Grahame, a driving force behind the Control of Dogs Act 2010 at Holyrood, said she was in favour of microchipping but warned it not without its challenges.
“Will the bad owners who breed dogs as aggressive weapons to tear other dogs apart in dog baiting have their dogs microchipped? I don’t think so.”
How Irish legislation keeps dog owners on a very short leash
In the Republic of Ireland, the Control of Dogs Regulations 1998 imposes a series of legal requirements on owners of ten breeds (strains and cross-breeds) of dog.
The ten breeds are: American pit bull terrier: English bull terrier; Staffordshire bull terrier; bull mastiff; Doberman pinscher; German shepherd (Alsatian); Rhodesian ridgeback; Rottweiler; Japanese akita; Japanese tosa; and bandog.
The rules state that: “These dogs (or strains and crosses) must be kept on a short strong lead by a person over 16 years who is capable of controlling them
“These dogs (or strains and crosses) must be muzzled whenever they are in a public place
“These dogs (or strains and crosses) must wear a collar bearing the name and address of their owner at all times.”
The rules also state that anyone in charge of a dog which comes under the regulations must ensure that it at “all times wear[s] a collar bearing the name and address of the owner” on a disc or badge attached to it.
The rules on muzzling and leashing do not apply to dogs used by the Gardai (Irish police), the Dublin harbour police, state airport police and bona fide rescue teams in rescue operations. The rules on muzzling do not apply to guide dogs for the blind.
On the spot fines of €100 (£82) can be issued and fines up to €1,269.74 imposed by a court for breaches of this legislation.
Under the 1986 Control of Dogs legislation, Irish local authorities were given powers to appoint dog wardens, provide dog shelters, seize dogs, impose on-the-spot fines and take court proceedings against owners. It is an offence to keep a dog without holding a licence for it. All dogs over four months of age must have a licence.
Dog wardens can ask owners to produce evidence of their licence and failure to do so can result in an on-the-spot fine.
Not paying this fine can also result in prosecution.
Wardens also have the power to seize and detain any dog, and to enter any premises with five or more dogs, other than a residence, to seize and detain a dog. It is an arrestable offence to obstruct a dog warden in the performance of their duties.