I was delighted to be approached by two PCSOs this morning on the beach and handed a leaflet on 'dog fouling' and a free 'poo bag'! They hadn't recognized me at first and it pleased me no end to see that the initiative was being taken in regard to mounting complaints over dog mess on our streets or indeed the growing number of irresponsible dog-owners that are now plaguing Thanet.
I read in The Telegraph this morning that the explosion in dangerous dogs now merits its own Metropolitan Police special unit. The paper reports: 'In the early part of this decade the Met was seizing a steady average of about 42 illegal dogs per year, then in 2006-07 the number suddenly jumped to 173 and has doubled every year since. In the past 12 months the Status Dog Unit has seized 1,259 illegal dogs, the vast majority of them pit bull types. 'At the same time that gang culture was becoming established here, hip-hop and rap singers in the US started using pit bulls in their pop videos, and suddenly it became fashionable to have one of these dogs,' 'They became a status symbol for a lot of the youth in London.'
Last year 5,221 people, a quarter of them children, were admitted to hospital in England after being attacked by dogs, compared with a total of just over 3,000 a decade ago. Thousands more were treated as outpatients.
The Dangerous Dogs Act, aimed at wiping out Britain's entire pit bull population. The Act made it illegal to own or breed four types of fighting dog: pit bulls; the dogo argentino, a dog bred for hunting boar; the Japanese tosa, a huge mastiff and the world's oldest breed of fighting dog; and the fila brasileiro, bred specifically for aggression. The Dangerous Dogs Act did have a temporary effect on pit bull numbers, which declined in the 1990s to such an extent that they dropped off the political agenda.
But, under pressure from animal charities, in 1997 Parliament watered down the Act by introducing an amendment giving magistrates discretionary powers to give illegal breeds back to their owners, subject to certain restrictions, if the owners are deemed responsible enough to keep the dogs under control. This is now generally seen to have been an enormous mistake and has led to a nationwide problem which is now seen to be running out of control through the inability of the legal system to deal with offenses involving dangerous dogs.
The Telegraph story today not only reveals how weak government and the legal system have been in responding to a growing social problem but also reflects how dangerous breeds are increasingly replacing knives and guns among gang members involved in crime or intimidation. Whether any government is now capable or even interested in changing the law appears unlikely until such a time as the state of equivocation and denial which presently exists at the Home Office is no longer avoidable.