Dog Bite Law and Public Protection
It can be difficult for a victim of a dog bite to know where they stand legally and how to begin researching or understanding dog bite law. The recent arrest of Judge Beatrice Bolton and the confiscation of her two German Shepherds, serves to illustrate how dog bite law can work in the UK in the interests of protecting the public. Judge Beatrice Bolton, Rothbury, Northumberland was arrested after three reported dog attacks in her local area. The first instance of dog violence occurred when Bolton’s German Shepherd, Georgina, attacked her neighbour’s twenty year old son in the garden which both properties share. Bolton was fined £2,500, under the current dog bite law as a result of this attack. However, Bolton’s dogs continued to be left in her care, which resulted in the second attack of postman, Kennet Auld, who worked for the Royal Mail. The Royal Mail subsequently ceased to deliver mail to the residence of Judge Beatrice Bolton. The attack also served to show that Bolton was failing to care responsibly for her pets, which undoubtedly led to the third, final attack, where a twenty-two year old man reported that he had been bitten in the leg in the Whitten Bank area of Rothbury – the area where Judge Beatrice Bolton lives.
Two interesting points concerning dog bite law arise in this case. The first is that Judge Beatrice Bolton, failed to provide her pets with the adequate and preventative care that was clearly needed before, and especially after, the first reported attack. The second is that the police said that their reason for the confiscation of Judge Beatrice Bolton’s two German Shepherds was to ‘ensure public safety.’ Both of these facts should present themselves as a comfort to anybody who has been the victim of a dog bite and is struggling with what can seem the vague and confusing nuances of the UK’s dog bite law.
Let us consider the first point: the fact that Judge Beatrice Bolton failed to provide her pets with the required care in order for them to behave amicably and not attack passers-by. A young professional walking to work through Regent’s Park, for example, should not have to fear or even think about the possibility of being bitten or attacked by a dog which has been let loose from the owner’s lead. Most local councils demand that dog owners keep their dogs on a lead when in public – the law stating that if a roaming pet dog is picked up by a warden, then the owner is liable for a financial penalty. If this young professional were to be bitten by a dog, a variety of scenarios might play out. Physical injury may affect the possibility of this young man working for the next few weeks; there is also the possibility of a disease-ridden dog bite, which would lead to serious health risks and complications. None of these things, however, would be the young professional’s fault. The dog attack must be entirely the dog owner’s responsibility. The reason for this is, like a lot of laws, dog bite law exists to help and guide owners to follow responsible ownership and prevent them from neglecting their duty to both their pets, and, most importantly, the public living in the surrounding area. It is exactly this point that Judge Beatrice Bolton and the hypothetical owner of the dog who attacked the young professional in Regent’s Park failed to acknowledge. Both are liable under the UK’s dog bite law standards.
Having investigated the preventative qualities that dog bite law should ensure, we can move onto how dog bite law actively ‘ensures public safety’. The confiscation of what the law deems as a dangerous dog is an active measure which takes the public out of danger’s way. This active manifestation of dog bite law has been utilised greatly in recent years due to growing trends in ‘fashionable’ aggressive dogs, often used in gang and crime culture. In London, 263 dogs were confiscated under the Dangerous Dogs Act in 2006 – 2007. By 2010, this number had risen by 400% in 2010, showing that growing numbers of dogs were actively putting the surrounding public at risk. Under the Dangerous Dogs Act, a dog can be confiscated if 1) it is an illegal breed 2) it is out of control 3) it is used to threaten or intimidate. All of these factors are related in some way to protecting the public from dangerous dogs who have, usually, received neglectful treatment or appropriate training by their owners.