Dogs could get day in court under proposed law change

Dog owners would be allowed to get opinion of veterinarians before police decide whether to put down dogs responsible for serious bites

Backlash over a 2010 law aimed at protecting humans from vicious dogs may result in changes to a requirement that all dogs that inflict serious bites on a person or another dog be put down.

Currently, a serious bite is considered to be one that requires stitches. Exceptions can be made if the dog was defending itself, but owners have no chance to appeal the decision.

Under the proposed change, dog owners would get the opportunity to have a veterinarian or other dog expert determine the extent of the injury, while the circumstances surrounding the bite will also be considered.

“With new and precise rules about biting, dog owners need no longer fear that their dogs will be put down following some rambunctious play in the park or because it has defended itself because it felt threatened,” Karen Hækkerup, the food and agriculture minister, Karen Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), said.

Hækkerup’s announcement came as her ministry released the findings of a review of the law that has been underway since March.

The review sought to address criticism of the bite regulations, including concern that final decisions were made by the police, not a veterinarian. The review also looked at the current provision that allows stray dogs to be shot.

Banned breeds to stay banned

The law also outlaws certain 13 breeds, and while some dog owners were asking for the ban to be dropped, Hækkerup said she did not support a repeal.

“The security and safety issues that were the basis for the bans are just as substantial today as they were three years ago,” she said.

The ban does not require dogs that were born before the law came into effect to be put down, but any puppies born after must be destroyed.

Breeders and owners of such dogs, as well as some veterinarians and animal rights activists, have criticised the law for what they consider to be needless killing, but, according to Food and Agriculture Ministry statistics, over 40 percent of all dog-bite cases since the law came into effect 2010 were from bites from banned breeds.

As of June 20, 157 dogs had been put down for biting another dog or person, while 465 were destroyed because of their breed.

The new law proposal comes on the heels of several high-profile cases that have sparked tremendous public debate involving dogs being put down for biting or nipping in self-defence.

In one case, police officer Lars Bo Lomholt was given a 60-day suspended sentence and put on probation for two years for abusing his position of authority for an incident last year in which he prevented a dog from being put down.