My Dangerous Dog Dilemma & How I Resolved It (I think…)

Buster & Harley - many moons before they became the victims of a dangerous dog attack

I am sure you will be relieved to hear that I did my little bit of civic duty this week. I spent much of Thursday afternoon in Southwark Police Station in south London, where I had been summoned to an ID parade, in the hope I could recognize the owner of the two dogs who attacked Buster & Harley – and me - a couple of weeks ago.

The man arrested denied all knowledge of the attack; ergo, it was down to me to pick him out from a line-up. The story of the attack and my response is here. Do feel free to scroll down, past the mushy bit, to get to the meat of the story – so to speak.

I have clearly been watching far too many glamorous American cop shows on the telly. Southwark nick was about as far from Miami Dade PD HQ as you can imagine. No dappled sunbeams shooting through glass doors, no hunky CSIs striding down corridors, urgently taking samples to trace, not even Horatio to reassure me, with that oh-so-familiar, swift whip-off of his shades.

I did, though, have a charming young PC from our local Safer Neighbourhoods Team, to chaperone me through a maze of double doors and corridors to the portakabin temporarily serving as the ID suite. I didn’t even get the excitement of the two-way mirror and a live parade of usual suspects. I sat nervously in front of a tiny monitor, as a gruff sergeant tapped on a laptop and asked me a series of fairly inane questions.

Nine images are played, twice through on a loop, before you get the chance to see them together on a grid, or to pick out an individual frame to freeze. It was even trickier than I had been anticipating. The nine men on the video all looked very similar; I have not been told whether my superficially confident spot was correct. I signed my declaration and escaped as quickly as I could, relieved it was over but with my conscience still slightly uneasy.

Why? Well, it turns out that the dogs’ owner is not some big Eastern European mafia gang boss, using his scary animals to help mark out his turf as he battles for control of the drug trade in southwest London. He is actually quite a mousy type, a skinny guy in his mid-20s, who does not seem to have a job to go to and who may or may not have his own addiction problems. He lives in a small Housing Association property with his dogs, who are healthy, well-groomed and magnificently turned out, in their studded leather harnesses.

He walks them daily on the little patch of the Common where we fell foul of them. He is still there most days now, with the dogs rarely muzzled and not always on the lead. Another spaniel, Romeo, remarkably similar in size and colouring to Buster, was set upon by them last week. Perhaps mindful that he was out on bail for an identical attack, he readily identified himself to Romeo’s owner and willingly gave his details. That is about the sum of what I know about this guy; that and the fact that he clearly loves his dogs.

Cara, the blind American Cocker Spaniel who saved my life (1993-2009)

I love my dogs. Don’t we all? I too well understand how a dog can feel like your one, true friend and comfort. During the months after I was, not unexpectedly but horribly prematurely, widowed, there were days upon days when I did not even feel like getting out of bed, let alone leaving the house.

However, I shared the house with two lively spaniels who needed to pee and were rather more interested in their breakfast than in the tiresome details of my depression and grief. Chippie and Cara needed me – the latter all the more so, given she had recently gone blind. There was no way I was to be allowed to wallow – or god forbid, do anything more drastic. Hand on heart, I can honestly say that Chip & Cara saved my life.

Lately when I have expressed this kind of reservation about the dogs which attacked us being destroyed, I have been roundly shouted down. What if the next target is a child? The dogs do live right next to a large primary school and there are scores and scores of babies and toddlers in our particular warren of roads.

Google “fatal dog attack” and in every single story, you will read that the police had already been alerted to the dangerous dog in question.

What if Buster and Romeo had been killed? Another excellent point and one with a very sobering coda: there is as yet no effective dog-on-dog legislation in England and Wales. Both spaniels could have been ripped to shreds in front of our eyes and the police would have been powerless to prosecute. If the second dog had not taken a huge chunk out of my ankle, there would no statutory grounds on which to pursue this owner and, as the young PC dealing with our case wearily explained, nothing whatsoever they could do.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve become a bit of an expert on dog legislation since the attack in February and it is clear that, as a broad coalition of animal and veterinary charities has been flagging for some time, the existing Dangerous Dogs Act is simply not fit for current purpose. There has actually been some good news lately in that the Dog Control Bill, a Private Members Bill introduced by Lord Redesdale, passed the committee stage in the Lords on Friday 4th March and will now hopefully make it to the Commons.

There is still time to sign a petition to repeal and replace the inadequate legislation – check it out here.

Meantime, I’ll keep you posted as to what happens with our case. Uneasy as I am about any dogs being destroyed – or even about a clearly needy individual losing his best friends – I simply do not want anyone, man, woman, child or dog – to go through what we have endured.

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