MDHB2 So far in 2021 there have been 2 people killed by dogs.  One was a dog someone took in with a bit of an unknown history that went upstairs to the young woman and fatally injured her.  2 days ago, Good Friday, an 85 year old lady was killed in her own garden by her next-door neighbour’s 2 dogs.  It seems they got through a hole or weak fence point and attacked her in her own garden.  Horrible, tragic and unnecessary.  There will likely be more, why is this still happening?

In 2015 I wrote to Defra Minister George Eustice about the lack of proper investigation into fatal or very serious dog attacks.  This was after various attempts to engage with MP’s and police regarding a better policy.  His response is here

The irony of his assertion that “coroners can identify the reasons for a dog attack” is that he is quoting from the coroners report in the death of Lexi Branson.  Lexi was tragically killed by a dog her Mum adopted from a rescue who knew the dog was unsuitable for them, did no home checks, no good practice at all.  A close family member spoke with me a few years ago as they thought the coroner’s recommendations would become law.  They did not, nothing has changed. The coroner’s concerns about poor quality rescue went unheard.  That is where George Eustice gets that insane idea from.  A case where the family thought change was coming and something could be salvaged from a needless death.  Coroners cannot identify why a dog did what it did.  That is a job for an expert.

I do in excess of 40 dog bite cases a year as an expert witness.  I assess and make recommendations to the court.  Identifying or using an expert opinion to say why something happened and the likely reason there was a bite is a crucial part.  I have campaigned for years for dogs to be kept alive for assessment after a serious incident.  A full history and investigation needs to be done, triggers identified, tests carried out.  Tests should include bloods and a full health check on the dogs as well as behaviour tested.  Police euthanise these dogs quickly with no testing and nothing is learned.

In 2018 the EFRA committee invited submissions to look at the Dangerous Dogs Act.  Over 400 written submissions were made by a variety of people.  This is my submission:  

I said again then that there is a need for a task force that is not just Police Officers.  Fatal and very serious attacks need full investigation.  That investigation into why a dog has done something terrible is not just a question of law.  It is a question of history, welfare, ownership, training and ignored warnings.  Satisfying the law is not the same as a full investigation.  The coroner teaches dog owners nothing at all.  Owners cannot identify if they are at risk or their dog could be the next one as there is simply no information. 

The EFRA report produced after hearing live evidence and digesting the written submissions is critical of DEFRA and the government’s approach to the law and lack of evidence based decisions.  It recommended a review into canine aggression:

“34. We are concerned that Defra’s arguments in favour of maintaining Breed
Specific Legislation are not substantiated by robust evidence. It is even more worrying
that non-existent evidence appears to have been cited before a Parliamentary
Committee in support of current Government policy. This lack of clarity indicates a
disturbing disregard for evidence-based policy-making. Defra should commission a
comprehensive independent evidence review into the factors behind canine aggression,
the determinants of risk, and whether the banned breeds pose an inherently greater
threat. We expect to receive regular progress updates on the evidence review, and to be
provided with the results no later than Easter 2019. These results must then be used to
inform the Government’s future dog control strategy.”

To date there is no report.  It is being conducted by Middlesex University and promised by the end of 2019.  Where is it?   I have contacted the University to ask.

6 April 2019

The Government is serious about tackling irresponsible ownership of dogs, which is why Defra is funding research being carried out by Middlesex University to gain a better understanding of the reasons for dog aggression, whether this is towards people or other animals, such as cats. We expect to have the findings of the research by the end of the year. (David Rutley MP, Conservative, Macclesfield)”

The EFRA report: 

Click to access 1040.pdf

In the sad case of a fatal baby attack I had the support of some family and the MP to live assess the dogs.  The family needed to know, everyone needed to know.  Police paid lip service to me even though the dogs were alive for 10 days.  They then put them to sleep.  A wasted opportunity to learn something.

Nothing in Police or Government Policy since the EFRA recommendations were made have in any way helped the identification of reasons or risk.  My own efforts are blocked and the situation is unchanged.  

In July 2020 I sent an 11 page document to the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.  I had been working with police and kennels to train people and raise standards.  There was good practice isolated into forces with no route to share it.  There was bad practice that was not realised as such and the cost to public funds and owners is huge.  The NPCC sent it to the National Committee on Dangerous Dogs and they promised to circulate it and get feedback. Nothing has happened.  I have recently started to tackle it one force at a time from the Chief Constable down.

I believe that investigation leading to education is the way forward.  A template for responsible ownership and ethical behaviour understood can only be created when the reason for fatalities and serious injury to both humans and dogs is properly looked at. 

If you are the family of someone killed or seriously injured by a dog, please consider talking to me privately.  I have no intention of identifying people, simply to gather information that might stop the next death. 

Debbie Connolly 2021




About Safepets UK

Expert Witness behaviourist assessing dogs for court, treating cats and dogs. Covering Midlands to London and other areas.

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