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Barking up the wrong tree?

The alleged mistreatment of dogs by police forces has made headlines in recent weeks, but can it ever be justified?

By Madeleine Banfield

North Wales Police have faced heavy criticism following publicity and the release of a video which showed their officers running over a loose dog which was disrupting traffic. The police feared it would cause a serious crash. The incident took place on the A55 in Conwy at around 3am on Monday 22nd February. A petition on change.org has been created in an attempt to gain justice for the dog, and has already passed 7,700 signatures.

It is clear that if the police did everything in their power to pursue an alternative method and still could not regain control, then something had to be done. Indeed, this can be compared to the three cars that crashed in Wales just days later, on the 26th February, after two dogs ran onto the A4232. This accident led to one woman receiving minor injuries, but realistically, both of these incidents could have ended in fatalities.

Police in this situation, when there are risks to life, have to effectively maintain control. The North Wales Police in their statement claimed that there were “several attempts to catch the dog”. But surely as dog owners themselves they should have been aware that the foxhound would have been anxious and excited. Running after a dog, trying to capture it, is surely not an appropriate way to handle the situation? Instead coaxing the dog towards the side of the road with food, or an even better option would be to raise an alert to the RSPCA, or vets with tranquillisers.

The police claim that they were forced to take action because the dog was causing vehicles to swerve, and there was a very real threat of a collision. One of the main things I have a difficulty in accepting is the fact that there was no road closure in an attempt to provide the police with additional time to react to the situation. This road acts as a gateway to Holyhead Docks and so there is a constant stream of traffic. Although this is reduced at 3am, surely this is all the more reason to close it. In these situations I would expect that the police immediately would want to reduce the risk to lives, whether human or animal. So why did they not stop the traffic or close the lane?

The mistreatment of dogs by the police force is becoming a very real debate. Stella, a pitbull-type dog had been judged as a ‘dangerous dog’ by Devon and Cornwall Police. She has been locked up in a kennel since 2014, and denied any exercise, supposedly in accordance with being under the Dangerous Dog Act. It is only on the 8th February 2016 that a court has ordered for the dog’s destruction, but there has not been any attempt in reducing the suffering of this dog throughout this process. This abuse exposes the police force’s attitude towards animals and the public criticism actively challenges the acceptance of this brutality.

Running over this dog can also be perceived as an act of mistreatment. It would have been safer for not only the dog, but the drivers too, if the road was closed until they had regained complete control. This was a major fault and they have received complaints from vast amounts of people because of it. The IPCC have ‘after careful consideration of a referral from North Wales Police, […] determined that the force should continue with its own investigation.’ Of course we will have to wait for the outcome of this to know the full extent of the story, but it does suggest an error in their conduct.

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