March 9, 2010 / 3:24 PM / 7 years ago

UK owners of "weapon dogs" face tough curbs

<p>Tia, a 4-year-old bull mastif sits in a kennel at the mayhew animal home in London March 9, 2010.Suzanne Plunkett</p>

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - All owners of Britain's five million dogs face compulsory microchipping of their pets and the introduction of mandatory third party insurance under new proposals announced on Tuesday to combat the rise in attacks by dangerous dogs.

Existing laws may also be extended to cover private property, to protect postmen delivering mail.

The proposals were announced by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, himself a former postman, who hit out at owners of so-called weapon dogs.

"The vast majority of dog owners are responsible, but there is no doubt that some people breed and keep dogs for the sole purpose of intimidating others, in a sense using dogs as a weapon," he said.

"It is this sort of behavior that we will not tolerate; it is this sort of behavior that we are determined to stop."

Each week in Britain, more than 100 people are admitted to hospital after dog attacks.

Organized dog-fighting is also on the rise as is illegal ownership of dangerous dogs, particularly by gangs. The RSPCA charity recorded a 12-fold increase in organized dog fights between 2004 and 2008.

<p>Gracie, a 9-month-old German shepherd chews on a bone at the Mayhew animal home in London March 9, 2010.Suzanne Plunkett</p>

RSPCA spokesman Rob Harris welcomed the proposals, but said plans for an insurance scheme were inadequate.

"The announcement is a major step forward but the mandatory insurance scheme risks targeting the law-abiding dog owner rather than those who are causing the problems," he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said the government was eager to hear the public's views on the proposals. The previous Dangerous Dogs Act passed in 1991 was widely criticized for being rushed through without consultation.

<p>A dog exercises in a park in London March 9, 2010.Suzanne Plunkett</p>

It banned ownership of four types: the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo Argentino and the fila Brasileiro.

"This is a consultation document. We're saying 'These are the options. What do people think?' Nothing has been decided," the spokesman said.

DEFRA will analyze all submissions over a 12-week period before passing its recommendations on to the government.

The proposals follow a series of high-profile dog attacks in Britain.

Last November, four-year-old John-Paul Massey died at his grandmother's house in Liverpool after being mauled by the family dog, a pitbull terrier-type. In February 2009, three-month old Jaden Mack was killed by his grandmother's two pet dogs.

Editing by Steve Addison

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