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Working Paper 139: Research Project Report: Status Dogs, Young People and Criminalisation: Towards a Preventative Strategy

Professor Gordon Hughes, Dr Jenny Maher and Claire Lawson

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has anecdotal and, to some degree, internal statistical evidence to suggest that in recent years there has been a dramatic increase in individuals owning and using dogs in harmful or criminal behaviour in the UK. In the financial year 2009-10 the Metropolitan Police Service (London) reported that they had seized and dealt with 1152 prohibited and dangerous dogs (RSPCA 2010a) an increase of 60% on the previous year. Between 2004 and 2008 the RSPCA saw a 12-fold increase (ibid) in calls reporting dog-fighting1. Some 55% of the calls to the RSPCA in 2009 concerning ‘dog fighting’ referred to youths or ‘hoodies’ fighting their dogs in the street or park. These so-called ‘status dogs’ are of certain breeds/types2 - both legal and illegal - and often have the label of ‘dangerous’3 referring, it would appear, both to other dogs and to humans. Anti-social behaviour with dogs is a widely reported issue that affects many people, mainly in urban areas, and is occasionally associated with ‘gang’ crime and more generally young people and their peer groups ‘on the streets’. 

The RSPCA’s core business is to prevent cruelty to animals and the organisation is the primary, albeit nongovernmental, enforcer of animal welfare legislation in England and Wales. The Society’s Inspectorate have reported an increase in the numbers of these types of dogs; changes in the situations in and purpose for which they are being kept; and who the owners are. Animal centres have noticed a significant increase in status dog breeds which in itself has presented ‘kennel blocking’4 and re-homing problems. Meanwhile animal hospitals and clinics have seen a worrying increase in the numbers of these dogs presented for fighting injuries which perhaps backs up the anecdotal evidence that ad hoc street dog fighting - referred to as ‘rolling’ - is indeed on the increase. 

Thus far the work of the RSPCA on the issue of status dogs has concentrated on mapping the Society’s own experiences, developing a network of enforcers and influencing relevant policies with housing providers. In addition in March 2009 the Metropolitan Police set up a Status Dogs Unit to which the RSPCA ensured an officer worked alongside this Unit specifically on this issue. The Society is also running a re-homing campaign designed to educate the public on the suitability of some of these dogs as pets (RSPCA 2011). In addition ten ‘hot spots’ have been identified using RSPCA data and reviewed by adding in local authority and police data (such as strays and seizures) across England and Wales where special project groups are being set up across these three bodies to pilot locally designed responses to the use of status dogs in anti-social behaviour. This builds on work already developed in and around the London area and it is hoped by the RSPCA that such interventions can be better evaluated and different models tested.

Professor Gordon Hughes, Dr Jenny Maher and Claire Lawson

Submitted to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals by the Cardiff Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, Cardiff University

March 2011

Working Paper 139: Research Project Report: Status Dogs, Young People and Criminalisation: Towards a Preventative Strategy, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, March(2011), ISBN 978-1-904815-92-1