Dogs Trust broadly welcomes these new guidelines as they provide for much greater flexibility than before. It is essential that magistrates have a range of sentencing powers available to them and these accompanying guidelines will help ensure consistent and appropriate sentencing. We hope that with the increased maximum sentences for dog attacks, dog owners will be encouraged to ensure they act responsibly and that ultimately there will be a reduction in the number of dangerous dog attacks although it is more likely that prevention will come from education. The emphasis that has been placed on considering whether an offender should be banned from owning a dog as part of the sentence is also very positive to reduce the number of unsuitable dog owners.

The guidance does bring to the forefront the woefully inadequate penalties that are available for cruelty cases for a conviction under the Animal Welfare Act. A person who injures or kills an assistance dog can only be given a maximum custodial sentence of six months. However the owner of a dog who injures or kills an assistance dog can be given a maximum custodial sentence of three years. This discrepancy highlights the urgent need for a review of animal cruelty sentences and the introduction of penalties that reflect the seriousness of the offences that are sadly carried out on a daily basis.