In the UK, if a dog injuries or kills your cat the police might not become involved

A story in the online newspaper GB News interests me. A large dog attacked Becky Quane’s cat outside her home in Birmingham, UK. Her cat was killed. The police refused to become involved. She felt helpless as she wanted the dog’s owner to be prosecuted for a crime.

Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

Tricky assessment

The law in this area is tricky. It’s a rather gray area. It turns on whether the attacking dog is assessed as being dangerously out of control. An assessment is based on whether the owner of a cat or other animal that’s been injured by a dog feels that the attacking dog is going to attack them if they intervene. But on my understanding of the law, if the owner is nowhere near the attacking dog and that dog attacks a cat on a street somewhere, and injures or kills the cat, the owner of the cat can’t rely on the police to get involved because the dog might not be assessed as being dangerously out of control. They regard this kind of attack as nature in action.

The last paragraph in this article sets out the specific requirements for deciding whether a dog is dangerously out of control but of course those requirements are open to assessment and discretion which creates flexibility or greyness in this area of the law in my opinion.

Assistance dog

Another situation where a dog owner can be prosecuted for a crime is if their dog attacks a service or assistance animal normally a dog as I understand it. If that happens the attacking dog does not need to be assessed as being dangerously out of control.

Amendment to the law

Becky found the law unsatisfactory. She isn’t the only person. A Member of Parliament has introduced a private bill. The sponsor is Anna Firth, a Conservative MP. The bill is intended to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to require “a person in charge of a dog to take all reasonable steps to ensure that that dog does not fatally injure another dog; and for connected purposes”.

It is currently at the first reading in the House of Commons. It was introduced in the 2022-2023 season and therefore has been in Parliament some time. I suspect it will fizzle out.

Police quote on their approach

Here is a quote from West Yorkshire Police in response to the question: My pet has been attacked by a dog; can the police do anything?

There have been decisions in the past by courts and authorities to suggest that it is the nature of a dog to kill and wound small animals. As such, unfortunately there is no certainty that the police could take action, in the event of your pet being killed or wounded by a dog. The police will however take action if the dog was dangerously out of control.

Civil action alternative

The alternative to a criminal prosecution would be to start a civil action against the owner of the attacking dog to seek compensation in the civil courts. This would be unattractive to almost everybody in the country because of the difficulties of conducting a civil action on your own and the financial unviability of being represented in those proceedings by a lawyer. The cost of the proceedings would far outweigh any damages awarded if the action was successful.

That means that Becky will have to live with the consequences of what happened to her cat unless of course the dog owner voluntarily agreed to pay compensation. Monetary compensation will never truly compensate for the distress caused.

Dog Legislation Officer

I’m told that police forces throughout the UK should have a Dog Legislation Officer (DLO) for the area concerned. If a police force does not have a DLO they should have access to one for guidance. A DLO should be trained in dog law and understand how to identify a banned dog (under the DDA).

Criteria for a dog being dangerously out of control

The police may pursue a case under Section 3 of the DDA and a court could judge that a dog is dangerously out of control if:

  • it injures a person, or
  • behaves in a way that makes a person worried it might injure them – even if
    it’s in the dog owner’s own home or garden, or
  • it injures another animal, or
  • the owner of the other animal has reasonable apprehension that they
    could be injured if they tried to stop the dog attacking their animal.
follow it link and logo