A dog is man’s best friend as the saying goes. In fact, we are a nation of dog lovers and our beloved pets play a pivotal role in our lives.
The covid pandemic and subsequent lockdowns led to a huge surge in the number of people deciding to get a dog, as more of us were at home.
Most owners took their responsibilities seriously and trained their new pets well so they are well behaved at home and while out in public. Most importantly they taught their pets to not bite or attack other dogs – and certainly not people.
But not all owners have well-trained pets and there has been an alarming rise in the number of people injured in dog attacks in England and Wales. Horrific injuries, including to children and the elderly, and tragically even deaths, have occurred.
The Government has recently added the American XL bully to the list of dogs banned in England and Wales under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
As of February, it is a criminal offence to own an XL bully without a certificate of exemption. Owners who apply for the certificate allowing them to keep their pets will have to have them muzzled and on a lead while out in public.
There has been an 88 per cent rise in the number of people going to hospital due to dog attacks in the last 15 years, according to the British Medical Journal. Tragically 10 people, including four children, died in dog attacks in England and Wales, according to the latest figures for 2022.
Many people badly injured in dog attacks are not eligible to claim compensation from a Government scheme which pays damages to victims of violent crime, who suffer physical or mental health injuries.
The current rules of the Government’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) state animal attacks do not fall within the definition of a crime of violence - unless the owner intentionally uses or causes the animal to attack an individual.
Yet, it is a criminal offence to have a dangerously out-of-control dog anywhere, including in a public place or in the owner’s home. This law applies to all dogs and an animal is considered dangerously out of control if it injures someone or makes someone worry that it might injure them. A criminal court can impose unlimited fines or prison sentences on dog owners who break the law.
People who are horrifically mauled by out-of-control dogs, some who suffer life changing injuries, are being denied vital compensation from the scheme. The money would help them rebuild their lives, including paying for treatment and therapies not available on the NHS, as they try to recover from their injuries.
The rules on which victims of crime can claim compensation from the scheme - and which cannot - desperately need updating so people who have suffered terrible physical and psychological injuries in an attack by an out-of-control dog are able to pursue a claim for redress.
APIL has told the Government that changes need making to the scheme so victims of all criminal dog attacks are eligible for compensation. The Ministry of Justice has been consulting on possible changes to the scheme, and we hope righting this anomaly will be one of them.
It’s time for victims of criminal dog attacks, regardless of whether the pet’s owner was using the animal as a weapon, to be treated fairly and with compassion.