Dog control laws need urgent reform to protect children from attacks - MSPs

18 July 2019, 05:42 | Updated: 18 July 2019, 05:44

hungry dog

Dog control laws are "not fit for purpose" and fail to prevent attacks on children, MSPs have said.

Current laws governing dog ownership and control are not being enforced and there is a lack of dog wardens, according to Holyrood's Public Audit Committee.

The Scottish Government has been told these laws need to be "reformed urgently" due to the high level of dog attacks happening in Scotland.

In its report following an investigation into dog control legislation, the parliamentary committee argued the effectiveness of the 2010 Control of Dogs Act is restricted by both a lack of resources for local authorities and a lack of public awareness about the current laws.

A shortage of dog wardens was highlighted as a key concern by the report, in addition to the "unacceptable" failure of the Government to establish a Scottish dog control database.

Announcing the findings of the report, committee convener Jenny Marra said: "Dog law in Scotland is not fit for purpose.

"There are still far too many dog attacks on children and little enforcement or understanding of the current laws that might prevent these attacks.

"It has become clear that current dog control law doesn't work. It needs to be reformed urgently so that out-of-control and dangerous dogs can be dealt with properly and we can try to move to a system that prevents our children being injured by dogs."

The committee is recommending GPs, hospitals, local authorities and Police Scotland record and collect data relating to all reported dog attacks, while councils should create secure play areas for children where all dogs are banned.

MSPs are also calling for an "immediate and overdue awareness campaign" about the current laws, to inform people about the guidelines for dog ownership.

While the lack of information held about dog attacks and injuries was described as a "significant barrier" in their investigation, MSPs heard hours of witness testimony from parents and dog owners who have been affected by attacks.

Mothers of attacked children called for reform to make it illegal for the pets to be off their lead in public, with one mum describing how "nothing has changed" in the law since her daughter was "decapitated" by two Rottweilers.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament in February, Veronica Lynch said: "When Kelly died, the laws were ineffective - nothing happened to anybody.

"The owner stupidly allowed his daughter and my daughter to take two massive Rottweilers out. Their combined weight was something like 19 stone and Kelly weighed four-and-a-half stone.

"She didn't stand a chance."

The campaigner added: "Thirty years on from Kelly's death we are still reading the same headlines.

"Nothing has changed and we have to get something done."

A dog belonging to another witness, David Graham from Edinburgh, was attacked by another dog while walking to the shops, leaving Gizmo the Shih Tzu bleeding heavily from his nose and eyes.

Mr Graham, who got Gizmo six months after leaving the Army to support his mental health, said: "Ever since the attack Gizmo won't go near dogs of the same breed or colour. This one attack has certainly left a permanent mental scar.

"I remember going to the police after the attack before anyone else and then just feeling completely confused in the whole process of what happened next.

"My experience showed the gaps that exist in current dog control law. Dogs like Gizmo should be safe, and we need laws that guarantee that."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "While most dog owners are responsible and keep their dogs under control, we are aware there is a small minority of dog owners who fail to do so and this puts communities at risk.

"The number of prosecutions for dogs being dangerously out of control has fallen nearly one-third in the last five years, from 136 in 2012-13 to 96 in 2017-18. However, we are clear that any incident, especially when a child is involved, can be traumatic and we will continue to support the police and local authorities to help keep communities safe.

"We will consider the report carefully including the suggestion of wider changes to the law in this area, the focus on whether the legal framework requires improvement and on the role of independent enforcement agencies."