Bitten by a Dog? Why isn’t the law biting back at owners?
According to NHS statistics, the number of people attending Accident and Emergency after a dog bite attack has risen by more than 40% in the last 4 years, but still there is no comprehensive dog registration scheme in place to identify irresponsible owners.
Young children and teenagers account for a large proportion of the 3,800 people who find themselves at the receiving end of a dog attack.
Nagam Din, Associate Solicitor at Simpson Millar LLP, represents a growing number of clients who have been harmed in dog attacks. She says:
"Dog attacks have always been a common occurrence, but recently we have seen particularly horrific cases with tragic outcomes. These are cases which could have been avoided had the owners acted responsibly."
“Dogs do make loyal and affectionate pets but any dog, regardless of breed, can attack. All responsible owners need to ensure that their dog is suitably restrained, both in public but also while on their property."
“Dog registration is the perfect solution to identify owners of dogs that have attacked. If the dogs have attacked resulting in injury, a caution would be registered. ‘Identichipping’ is widely recognised as a most effective and secure way of identifying a pet – ideally every dog should have an identichip."
“The media has recently highlighted a number of cases resulting in serious injury or death involving Staffordshire Bull Terrier type dogs. There appears to be a trend of retaining certain breeds as ‘status symbols’."
"Responsible dog owners need to ensure that they research their chosen breed of dog carefully before taking them on. A visit to a reputable breeder is a must."
"Unfortunately, tragedy is often waiting to happen when owners have no knowledge of the breeds’ inherent characteristics. Through what they may think is innocent play they are actually teaching these dogs aggressive behaviour."
"In one recent case, a child aged 10 was attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier which was off the lead in a playground where she was playing with her friends. The dog clamped its jaws around her face, knocked her to the ground and shook her."
"She was left with significant injuries to her face and had to undergo surgery to replace missing flesh from her cheek. But the 50 stitches have left her with more than just a scar. She will require further surgery in the future along with counselling and support."
The child’s father does not wish to be identified but said:
"The family is very distressed and upset that this was allowed to happen."
Young children are not the only victims. Postmen are increasingly getting attacked and bitten by aggressive dogs – on and off owners’ premises. The Communication Workers Union has long been campaigning for a comprehensive dog registration scheme so, following an attack, the responsible owner can easily be identified and held accountable.
The Health and Safety and Environmental Department at the Communication Workers Union launched the CWU "Bite-Back" Campaign following an attack on a member which left him with significant injuries. The CWU is calling for:
- The better protection from dangerous, aggressive, out of control dogs for Postal Workers delivering the mail
- Government action on modernising and strengthening the law on dangerous and unruly dogs.
The Greater London Authority, Metropolitan Police, RSPCA and Battersea Dogs Home have also launched a campaign on responsible dog ownership but some feel there should be stricter legal duties on dog owners.
What can you do if get bitten by a dog?
The owner or person in charge of a dog which is dangerously out of control in a public place can, pursuant to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, be found guilty of an offence and face either, a fine, a prison sentence or being disqualified from keeping a dog.
Any person can make a complaint to a magistrates’ court, or report a dog to the police if it is dangerous, pursuant to the Dogs Act 1971. A court can make control orders, or even order that the dog be destroyed. The advantage of this Act is that it applies around a private dwelling, eg if a neighbour’s dog is a nuisance, or causes fear or risk of injury to any person including, for example, postmen making deliveries to private property.
If an individual wishes to pursue a claim for personal injury or damage then he has to establish that the keeper of an animal knows that it was likely to cause such damage or injury if it was unrestrained, pursuant to the Animals Act 1971. The laws can apply individually or in combination to act as a positive encouragement to owners to exercise safe control over their dog.
There are a number of councils that already operate voluntary schemes for dogs to be registered and chipped, eg Bradford Council. People on low income can have their dogs chipped/neutered at a discount or for free to encourage owners of all dogs to enter into this scheme.