Judicial Sympathy Not Enough to Save Dog from Destruction


Many dog lovers believe that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 is a defective piece of legislation that has led to the needless destruction of numerous lovable pets. As a High Court ruling made plain, however, its purpose is to protect the public and judges are required to apply the law, wherever their sympathies may lie.

The case concerned a dog that was agreed to be of a pit bull type which is prohibited under the Act. He was, however, exempted from destruction on condition that his owner complied with certain conditions. He was, amongst other things, required to be neutered, microchipped, insured and always kept on a lead and muzzled when in public.

After he escaped from his owner’s home, he attacked another dog, also apparently biting its owner. The frightening incident went on for several minutes and only came to an end when the police intervened. Magistrates responded by making an immediate destruction order that was subsequently confirmed by a judge.

Ruling on the owner’s challenge to that outcome, the Court noted that she was a fit and proper person to have custody of such a dog. She was in no way to blame for his escape and he had since given no further trouble. A police officer had described him as friendly and engaging and a canine behaviour expert had confirmed that, in his view, he was not dangerous.

In dismissing the appeal, however, the Court noted that the burden of proof rested on his owner to establish that he did not constitute a danger to public safety. The judge’s conclusion that she had failed to discharge that burden was soundly based on the evidence. Expressing sympathy, the Court noted that she could not have done more in her fight to save him from destruction.

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