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Unleashed: The phenomena of status dogs and weapon dogs

Simon Harding
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    This is the first book in the UK or US to set on record the recent cultural phenomenon of the use of certain dog breeds - both legal and illegal - to 'convey status' upon their owners. Such dogs are easily visible on social housing estates throughout the UK and in projects in the USA and provide acquired authority, respect, power and control. However they are increasingly linked to urban street gangs as 'Weapon Dogs' and present a danger to the ordinary public especially those using parks and open spaces with increased injuries being presented at UK hospitals. Though initially slow to react, local and statutory authorities are now seeking to address the issue through action plans and interventions. Written in a fresh, engaging and accessible style, this unique book contextualizes the phenomenon in terms of sociology, criminology and public policy. It considers a complex mix of urban and social deprivation, social control of public space and the influence of contemporary media imagery and 'gangsta' culture. It will make essential reading for academics and policy makers in criminology and criminal justice and those working with animal rights/animal welfare groups.

    eISBN: 978-1-4473-0028-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. List of figures and tables
    (pp. iv-v)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    David Grant

    For the past five years or so it was obvious that there was a problem with certain types of dogs and in particular their owners. A year or so ago, it became worse. In the RSPCA Harmsworth hospital, we were seeing two or three dog fights per day. One weekend, a colleague on duty had to deal with 10 separate fights. All these dogs were Staffordshire bull terrier crosses or pitbull crosses. On the Monday morning, this colleague decided he had had enough and handed in his notice.

    The loss of an experienced and valued colleague concentrated my mind and...

  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    On the night of 27 April 2009, 16-year-old Seyi Ogunyemi and five friends, associates or members of the ABM (All ’bout Money) gang based in Stockwell Gardens Estate, London SW9, entered Larkhall Park, Lambeth. The park is contested territory between local gang ABM and a rival gang, 031 (pronounced O-tray), whose members are predominately from neighbouring SW8. The two gangs had been rivals for the previous two years or more. Rivalry between the two groups sometimes precipitated a shoot-on-sight policy. In 2007, five young men aged between 15 and 23, each with links to one of these two groups, were...

  4. ONE Methodological challenges of researching status dogs
    (pp. 9-22)

    The purpose of this book is to consider the phenomenon of status dogs and to assemble for the first time the evidence that shows that this is in fact an issue of some import at present in the UK. Before setting out the evidence uncovered, it is important to consider the unique challenges of undertaking research into this topic and the difficulty of obtaining quality robust data.

    Any exploration of this topic must unearth evidence to prove or disprove the premise that status dogs are a contemporary issue in the UK. The literature review on this topic revealed only a...

  5. TWO Who let the dogs out? The new phenomenon of status dogs
    (pp. 23-40)

    Any discussion of human–animal relationships in the UK naturally assumes a western perspective and it is recognised that other cultures have developed different histories and traditions.

    The role of dogs in society and in human–animal relations has changed over the years, but the pace of change has been considerably more rapid over the past 100 years. Dogs have been sought throughout history for their ability to befriend and bond with humans. We have looked to dogs for natural canine functions of hunting, tracking, herding, guarding, scenting and protecting.

    Although dogs have long been companions for humans, it is...

  6. THREE Status dogs: myth or menace?
    (pp. 41-64)

    Chapter Two set the scene with an examination of how bull breeds and dangerous dogs are viewed today in the US and the UK. However, this book is chiefly concerned with the phenomenon of status dogs, and this chapter examines more closely how this term came into being and what it means. It reviews the development of the concept in the UK media before considering in more detail how societal attitudes towards dogs have both changed and added to this debate.

    The earliest reference I can find to the term ‘status dog’ is in an RSPCA briefing note (2007: 1),...

  7. FOUR Motivations and characteristics of owners
    (pp. 65-114)

    A key question for me as I began investigating the phenomenon of status dogs was why is this occurring? What motivates young men to obtain aggressive dogs, or to obtain a placid puppy and train it to be deliberately aggressive? This chapter considers the motivations of owners by first establishing a typology of motivations. Second, it draws on sociological and criminological theories to help us understand why some people feel the need to boost their status and why dogs may fit this purpose – for example, for use as gang dogs (dogs used by one or more gang members exclusively within...

  8. FIVE Presenting the evidence
    (pp. 115-154)

    This chapter presents the evidence generated from the research study (see Chapter One for a detailed account of the methodological challenges of undertaking research into status dogs). The findings from the literature review are documented throughout the book and the critical discourse analysis of the media has been addressed in Chapter Two. The chapter begins by setting out the secondary data sourced from a wide variety of agencies, which indicates how these organisations have identified and recorded the appearance of the phenomenon of status dogs. This desk research indicates the emergence of the phenomenon and illustrates that aggressive bull breeds...

  9. SIX Off the chain: the issue of dog fighting
    (pp. 155-182)

    The past few years has seen an upsurge in the popularity of illegal dog fighting in the UK, as reported by the RSPCA,¹ and also in the US as reported by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).² It is possible that the increase in both organised dog fighting and ‘chain rolling’ (impromptu dog fights where dogs are kept on the leash) mirrors the increase in the number, popularity and availability of ‘status dogs’, although this theory is as yet unproven.

    In recent years, dog fighting has been subject of considerable media coverage, but little, if any, academic research....

  10. SEVEN Implications of status dogs in public space
    (pp. 183-198)

    Having established the nature of the status dog phenomenon, we now turn to the impacts on communities and consider the implications for people who share public spaces with status dogs. Growing numbers of bull breeds and status dogs has led to their increased visibility in parks, high streets and housing estates. This, coupled with increasing media attention, has led to heightened public recognition and awareness of these breeds. An increase in public anxiety is often the result, and is reflected in changes in how people use public places; for example, an unwillingness to frequent areas such as local parks where...

  11. EIGHT Responses to the issue of status dogs
    (pp. 199-232)

    Having established the nature of the phenomenon of status dogs and how it presents both risks and challenges for the public, we now look in more detail as to how these are being addressed by the statutory authorities, namely the police, the courts and local and regional government. The chapter also examines emerging good practice from animal welfare agencies that are now at the forefront of tackling this issue.

    In their review of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 and the regulatory responses in the 1990s, Lodge and Hood (2002) report police enforcement as ‘patchy’. After a ‘short period of...

  12. NINE Conclusion
    (pp. 233-246)

    The reasons for writing this book were numerous. Initially, it was the murder of 15-year-old Seyi Ogunyemi in Lambeth in 2009 during my research into gangs in Brixton and Stockwell that alerted me to the issue of gangs using status dogs. I quickly wanted to establish if this incident was isolated or extensive. My gang research had already alerted me to issues of urban dog fighting among youths and how young men paraded their aggressive bull breed dogs to gain status among their peers. There was a need to understand this phenomenon by getting behind the media headlines and scare...

  13. APPENDIX A: Dangerous dog legislation, controversies and debates
    (pp. 257-264)
  14. APPENDIX B: Status dog data from RSPCA, MPS and research findings
    (pp. 265-268)
  15. APPENDIX C: Disposals of status dogs by Metropolitan Police service
    (pp. 269-271)
  16. APPENDIX E: Defra consultation, 2010
    (pp. 274-276)