Following the recent sad news of the death of 4 year old John Paul Massey, after he had been attacked by his uncle’s American bull mastiff, media attention has refocused on the ownership of ‘dangerous’ dogs. As part of the BBC ‘Pledge Watch’ series of articles, Justin Parkinson has taken the opportunity to revisit the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.

Following a spate of dog attacks on children in the early 1990s, media coverage focused on various breeds of dogs as symptomatic of Britain’s growing levels of aggression. One particular case – the fatal canine attack on Rukhsana Khan – led to the creation of emergency legislation, supported by the Conservative government and the labour opposition. The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 banned the import of four types of dog, as well as allowing for those dogs deemed dangerous to be subject to a compulsory destruction orders. The legislation also made the wearing of muzzles when for certain types of dog.

Despite allegations that ‘the Dangerous Dogs Act is among the worst pieces of legislation ever seen, a poorly thought-out knee-jerk reaction to tabloid headlines that was rushed through Parliament without proper scrutiny’ it is seen by many as necessary. With recent NHS statistics suggesting that dog attacks are on the increase, it would seem that this particular act is not able to tackle the problem. It would seem that for the foreseeable future, certain types of dogs will continue to be ‘folk devils.’

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