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26 July 2007 Edition

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Dangerous dog ban

Dublin City Council has introduced a measure banning eleven breeds of dog and all their cross breeds, from local authority properties and estates as of 1 July. Due to the absence of a sounder legal basis, the measure is to be made a condition of tenancy agreements. This breed-specific measure, while well intentioned, is not without problems, however, and has sparked controversy already.
While the vast majority of dogs living in residential areas are well behaved and add great value to family life, certain dogs do pose a threat to the welfare and even the lives of residents and in particular, to children. Some shocking cases have received focused media attention, for example the seven-year-old boy who was hospitalised in County Offaly last month after an attack by two rottweilers; and five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson, who was tragically killed by her uncle’s pit bull terrier in Leicester, England, last New Year’s Day.
Although receiving less media coverage, some dogs are also employed by criminals and others engaged in more general anti-social behaviour as an effective means of intimidation.  And residents have been forced to suffer the consequences of irresponsible and anti-social owners who raise their dogs to be violent.  The Council has a responsibility for the welfare and safety of residents and has responded by introducing a breed specific ban.
However, animal welfare groups, including the DSPCA, the ISPCA, the Irish Kennel Club and Animals Need a Voice in Legislation (ANVIL) have been highly critical of the ban.  The groups have argued that breed-specific legislation does not work and the focus should be on owners rather than a blanket ban on certain breeds. The existing laws relating to leads, muzzles and handler age limits are not being enforced, they argue.  
And of course the ban discriminates against local authority tenants, because they alone will be forced to have their dogs rehomed or put down.  As an alternative, the DSPCA has proposed mandatory neutering, micro-chipping and guardianship registration.  They have offered to use their mobile clinics and veterinary unit to roll this out on behalf of the Council.
Sinn Féin Councillor for Dublin’s South West Inner City, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, called on the Council to meet with the interested expert groups. Following reported initial refusals, this meeting is to take place shortly. Ní Dhálaigh will participate in the meeting, which is to focus on the repercussions of the ban, how it can be implemented and a possible appeals mechanism.
Responding to lobbies from animal rights advocates, Ní Dhálaigh said: “I was one of the councillors who welcomed that Dublin City Council was taking some kind of action to tackle the issue of dangerous dogs and I welcome the much needed debate that is now taking place.
“My constituency has one of the highest densities of flats complexes in Dublin and I am regularly contacted by tenants who are being terrorised by roaming dangerous dogs and dogs that are not muzzled or on some occasions not even on a lead.
“This has a huge impact on their quality of life.  Some of them are hostages in their flats as they cannot come out onto the balcony to use the stairs due to dangerous dogs loose on the balcony.”  She also acknowledges that there is a serious issue of irresponsible dog ownership that needs to be dealt with. “The heart of the problem is a lack of enforcement and one of the main difficulties is that there are not enough dog wardens to enforce the existing rules.”
The Dublin City Council ban may be extended in the future to include public parks and rolled out to other council areas or even statewide.  Given the gravity and complexity of the issue, Dublin Sinn Féin has set up a small group to conduct a consultation to inform the party’s position on the ban and its broader approach to the problem of violent dogs.  Anyone who would like to submit their views on this should contact Miriam Murphy at [email protected]

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