From the NS archives: Bitten by dogs
Dogs, wrote the policeman and journalist CH Rolph in 1972, are “the animal most subject to the law, not yet equipped with pants and walking upright”. Stories of dogs biting people regularly make headlines, but the legality of each situation is not straightforward. At the time, an Alsatian jumping on a woman in a pub gave rise to a police report explaining that “every dog ââis entitled to a bite”. Rolph didn’t surprise Rolph, but the more he inspected cases involving dogs, the more he realized that such laws needed adjustment. What about the 1947 Buckinghamshire County Council regulation that prohibited dogs from barking at night, or the cumulative penalty of Â£ 1 per day for keeping a dangerous dog alive before it is ” destroy”? Even lawyers and magistrates feel lost in the âcanine lawâ.
There is nothing funny about being bitten by a dog. But the law has become so tangled up about dogs and dog lovers, it’s like it expects us to smile indulgently at what they do. Around the immense library which now includes the law of England slips a figure known as the ferocious unmuzzled dog; not without status, as long as he wears a collar (not a small jacket) bearing the name and address of his owner, but an archetypal heart that no one wants to own until the trouble is over. The law is not against the dog by canem. Indeed, it protects him against vivisection, cruelty, neglect, theft and the fact of being pulled a cart, a horse-drawn carriage, a sleigh, a truck or a wheelbarrow. Plus: a motorist who runs over it must stop and report if possible to the owner – or, failing that, to the police, within 24 hours; which is more than the law has ever done for cats, chickens and elephants.
But if a dog that has never bit anyone, or thought about it, is running around scaring people, the magistrates can order it to be kept under control, or destroyed (whichever they prefer). Its owner can appeal against the destruction order, but not against the control order. And, most effectively but for a reason least known of all, the owner can be prosecuted under the Town Police Clauses Act of 1847 (and an assortment of similar statutes) for “suffering from being on the run a dog. ferocious not muzzled â. It is not necessary to prove that the dog has bitten or intended to bite someone; there is no need for a âmuzzle orderâ in effect (and there has not been one for many years); there is no need to prove that the owner knew him to be fierce – only that he knew he was on the run. Nobody knows what “in general” really means either, but that would surely include being in a pub bar when it’s time to drink.
Now, in the London Journal of November 24, Crucifer told us that when he was recently in a pub, an Alsatian suddenly threw himself on a lady in his group and bit her. “A police complaint,” Crucifer wrote, “produced the old saw that” every dog ââdeserves a bite. ” Why the hell? âHe asked, rationally enough. It was no surprise to me that the police in some areas, especially the dog infested areas, would still have to be heard to use the old buck-passer. perhaps surprisingly, it is its recent rebirth in the Family Guide to the Law published last year (and actually a wonderful compilation) by Reader’s Digest, although here it has been called a “well-known adage” in the first edition and a “well-known saying” – which is a bit younger than an adage – in the second:
The well-known saying that every dog ââhas the right to a bite has legal significance in the sense that the owner of a seemingly docile dog cannot be held responsible if he bites unexpectedly. But once a dog has taken an unprovoked bite, the owner can be sued for damages if he attacks someone a second time.
Even so, “attacking someone a second time” does not mean biting the same man twice. It can mean biting two different men on different occasions. For too long, bitten men have come to accept the idea, popular only among unbitten dog lovers, that they must suffer a qualifying injury. Criminal law is not, by comparison with civil law, the work of dog lovers, who tend to see it, in its many manifestations among specific cases and local regulations, as the work of fierce legislators. unmuzzled. A glance at recent decisions may reveal the possibility of a little tidying up.
In 1947, Buckinghamshire County Council passed a bylaw, at the behest of the voters of Chesham, prohibiting the barking of dogs at night. It was not an issue for civil suits and damages. At night, the dog barking in Bucks behaves criminally, although the intention is either for the master to pay the fine or, having refused, to go to jail while the dog goes to a house. I don’t know of any other county that punishes barking, but I remember dog lovers all over the place at the time to speak out against and defeat a timely suggestion that barkless dogs should be raised by parents without vocal cords. .
In Bath in 1954, a doctor who kept chickens in his backyard was one of the first to invoke the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953, which criminalizes owning a dog that worries cattle about âagricultural landâ. Two dogs belonging to neighbors had come in and killed her chickens, and she chased the neighbors. The magistrates decided that her garden was not agricultural land (and it was not, within the meaning of the statute) and she lost.
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In 1958, Marlborough magistrates used the Dogs Act of 1871 to order a lady to keep her three collies under control. They had the postman trapped in the garage, and he kept them at bay by kicking and screaming until she got up and saved him. If you do not comply with a “control order” you will receive another summons to explain why the dog should not be destroyed; after which there is a cumulative penalty of Â£ 1 per day until the deed is done. People have racked up huge Â£ 1 a day bills and have even been taken to higher courts to be ordered and then convicted of contempt. That same year, an Alsatian from Portsmouth was ordered to be destroyed for attacking motorcyclists. His owner, a lady living on National Assistance, was unable to pay the pound sterling a day to keep him alive, which came to be seen as a sort of judicial blood price; and the Home Secretary (that was MRA Butler) was asked if he would change the law so that badly behaved dogs can be “sent to approved quarantine” which, come to think of it, is nothing more than us. deal with rude people.
No, he said. The following year, a Harrow man was fined for “suffering from being on the run a ferocious unmuzzled dog” – this was under the Metropolitan Police Act of 1839. He used to to take out six or seven greyhounds as “master” and one of them jumped on a passer-by and bit him. The magistrates ruled that a dog on a leash was a âfreeâ dog if it bit people. But the High Court said it was wrong. The man could exercise control (the judges said) but did not. It was different not being able to exercise it at all, and also using a leash “so long that the control is minimal and the dog is for all intents and purposes free.” How long should it be?
In 1960 there was the Smith v Baker case, which forces a lot of police officers (because they misunderstood it) to wash their hands of bad dog stuff like they did in history. of Crucifer. Alady of Ashford, Kent, appealed in the Queen’s Bench Division, having previously failed Quarter Sessions, against an order to destroy his Alsatian dog, who had attacked and injured a seven-year-old boy. His argument was that the order had been issued at the request of the police, who had no standing to act in the matter. The complaint should have come from the injured party, i.e. the bitten boy or someone acting for him. The Lord Chief Justice agreed that proceedings under the Dogs Act 1871 were not criminal proceedings – until there was a breach of a dog control order. Then they became criminals and the police were able to deal with them. Nonetheless, they could be forgiven if they felt as lost in canine law as so many lawyers and magistrates have.
In 1963, a lady from Tooting Bec was prosecuted for suffering from being on the run a ferocious, unmuzzled dog, and this time it was a corgi, which had bitten two young children. The magistrate rejected the summons because (he said) a dog may have a disposition to bite small children without being fierce. But about four months later, the same case came before him through a request for an order to destroy the corgi; and the facts presented to him were the same. He made the order and the lady appealed to the High Court, arguing that the magistrate, having concluded that the dog was not ferocious, must now conclude that it was not dangerous. Not at all, the judges said. âA dog can have a disposition to bite out of temper, nervousness or provocation. It is something very different from ferocity.
I guess nothing illustrates the general confusion better than the penalties prescribed for owners of guilty dogs. If your dog runs down the road and causes an accident, you could be civilly liable for a huge sum of money – against which you can insure up to Â£ 100,000 for just 50p. If he attacks or pursues the cattle, the farmer can shoot him, then fined you Â£ 20, then recover damages for any adverse consequences for his animals (loss of product, abortion, etc.) . A dog license still costs only 37 pence, and a dog collar about as much; but if two dogs are tried, one without a license and the other without a collar, who do you think would be considered the worst dog? For not having a license, the penalty is Â£ 10; for not having a collar, believe it or not, Â£ 400. So think about what it might cost to go claim it. You will have embarked on a subject which alone could be the subject of a big law book, the law of the lost, found, stray and stolen dog; the animal most subject to the law not yet equipped with pants and walking upright.
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