From North West Evening Mail
NOT one single owner has registered a dangerous dog in Cumbria despite hundreds being kept as pets. Crime reporter SUZANNE MURPHY spoke to the oficer tasked with changing attitudes and making sure banned breeds ae regulated
EARLIER this month, a Barrow man was barred from keeping a dog for five years and his vicious, illegal pit bull was ordered to be destroyed after it attacked another dog.
It was the first prosecution of its kind in Cumbria.
Adam Mills’ dog, Harvey, attacked Jack Russell terrier Molly, leaving her needing 200 stitches.
The 23-year-old of Stewart Street, Barrow Island, appeared before Furness Magistrates’ Court on October 5 and pleaded guilty to possessing a dog which is banned under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and having an animal dangerously out of control.
PC Charles Sowerby, part of Cumbria Constabulary’s Dogs Unit, said the force was now launching a crackdown on so-called ‘status dogs’.
The officer says while out on patrol he can see up to three such illegal hounds a day – but his hands are tied.
The PC says that as much as he would love to make sure all such pets are seized, it is not financially viable and could bankrupt the force.
There are currently four banned breeds on the government list – pit bull terriers, Japanese Tosa, dogo Argentino and fila Braziliero – but the government is looking at adding more dogs to the list as new breeds are brought into the country.
PC Sowerby explained that just because a family pet was on the banned list it did not mean it would be destroyed unless it had been involved in a attack or was deemed to be dangerous.
He said the police just wanted responsible dog owners to register their pet and make them legal.
The officer said: “There are a lot of illegal dogs around and a good number never cause a problem but then there are those who simply pick the breed for their appeal as ‘status dogs’.
“Pit bulls were very popular and quite easily bred and we know there are people in Cumbria still breeding them.
“Originally, when the act came out, a dog that came to police attention would be taken away and destroyed and the plan was to eventually eradicate the species.
“People complained that healthy animals were needlessly being put down, so a right of appeal was introduced.
“If a suspected banned dog is seized now we have to impound it at the taxpayers’ expense while any appeal process goes through. We also have to employ veterinary experts in these particular breeds to check the animal.
“Due to a lack of such experts locally, we would have to employ someone from London and the whole process could take many months and be very expensive.
“Driving around Barrow on a daily basis I can see about two or three such dogs every day. We also get intelligence about people owning pit bulls. We simply cannot go out and seize all dogs as we would bankrupt the force.
“Every report we receive is judged on its individual merit.
“The Mills case was obviously one that we had to act on.
“But we will slowly get on top of it and will be targeting owners.”
The PC said the only way to stop your banned dog being seized was to register it.
He explained: “People can register it through us and it can either go through the magistrates or the civil courts.
“If the dog is from a nice family and we have no concerns then it would go through the civil courts. The dog would then have to be neutered, microchipped and tattooed.
“Owners would pay a fee to register it of about £25 and get third-party insurance, but then it would no longer be an illegal animal. Once registered, the dog must be walked by someone over 16 and in a public place must be muzzled. It would then be illegal to sell it or give it away as a gift.
“Currently, there isn’t one dangerous dog registered in Cumbria but we are looking at ways we can change that and we and other forces will be looking at policies to deal with banned dogs.”
PC Sowerby said that such a dog in the right hands could be a great pet but in the wrong hands it could be a dangerous weapon.
He added: “Owning an unregistered pit bull-type dog is illegal and we will prosecute anyone who puts themselves and others at risk by ignoring the law.
“The Mills case highlights that if these dogs are left unregistered they have a high potential to be dangerous to both other animals and people, so unregistered pit bulls will not be tolerated in our communities.
“Having a pet dog as a companion is a wonderful and rewarding experience but as a dog owner, you must be responsible at all times.”
Anyone who suspects their dog may be an illegal breed or who has concerns about dogs owned by other people can contact police on 0845 3300247 for further information and advice.