Within a decade, the number of convictions for dangerous dog offences has almost tripled, from 439 in 2000 to 1192 adults sentenced in 2010. This is why the new sentencing guidelines, which came into force this week, should be welcomed.
It will lead to tougher sentences for people who fail to control their dogs, and could see owners receiving 18 month custodial sentences.
Whilst the vast majority of dog owners act responsibly; dangerous dogs still pose a concern for our communities.
It is estimated that around half of all children will be bitten by a dog in their lifetime; either by their own pet or by a friends and around 6,000 postal workers are attacked every year.
Whilst many bites may not require medical assistance, over the last year to April, 6,447 people have been admitted to A&E having been bitten or struck by a dog.
Although detailed figures are not currently available, my local police force in Kent reported nearly 1000 incidents initially recorded as “Dog Bites” between April 2011 and March 2012.
One recent incident, in my constituency, resulted in a police officer being attacked in Gillingham. After admitting allowing the dog to be out of control in a public place, the owner was given a 12 month conditional discharge.
Tougher sentences will act as a strong deterrent but we also need to promote responsible dog ownership. A great initiative has been the ‘dog for everyday’ campaign by Medway Council. This has offered free microchipping, training and advice to owners at various roadshows in the local area.
The change to sentencing guidelines are also only one measure the Government is taking. DEFRA is currently looking at compulsory microchipping and the police are having more discretion on kenneling dogs.
These should be welcomed by everyone who wants to make our communities a safer place.