Dogs, Owners & Responsibility: Law in the Doghouse?

University of Birmingham
Tuesday 24 June 2014 (09:30-17:00)

This event is invitation-only.

This workshop will explore the problematic relationship between humans and dogs, and law’s role in its governance. The aim is to disseminate academic work on the dog/human nexus and how it is legally regulated to key stakeholders involved in the regulation of social problems attributable to dogs and anti-social behaviour, including local authorities, the police and a range of dog charities/rescues, both in Birmingham and nationally. The event is hosted by the Institute of Advanced Studies and sponsored by the journal Social and Legal Studies.

The past decade has revealed a crisis in human relationships with dogs – a relationship which is increasingly mediated by law. Dogs are celebrated in popular television shows such as “The Wonder of Dogs” and “The Secret Life of Dogs” and increasingly viewed as companion species more akin to family members than to legal property (albeit that this is a heavily commodified relationship with owners spending vast sums of money on accessories and vets are faced with the ethical problems posed by ever more extreme medical interventions to prolong their lives). Simultaneously, however, media headlines reveal a crisis in which the number of stray dogs has reached an all-time high, and dogs are depicted as out of control weapons and killers.

Thus, the 2013 annual Stray Dogs Survey by Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, reveals a shocking 111,986 stray and abandoned dogs were picked up by Local Authorities across the UK over the last 12 months, equating to a staggering 307 stray dogs being found every day. [5]  Significant numbers end up being euthanised. Media campaigns have fuelled the stigma attached to certain breeds making them - and their owners - particularly vulnerable to stigmatization and fuelling a particular crisis in bull breeds and so-called status dogs, [6] while making them perversely attractive to the ‘wrong’ sort of owners.

Against this backdrop the heavily criticized and largely ineffective Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, which has itself contributed to the issue with bull breeds, remains in force.


9.30- 10am  Coffee  & Registration

10 - 10.15 am Welcome: Professor Malcolm Press, PVC for Research, University of Birmingham

PANEL 1: 10.15 - 12.15 Constructing  Dangerous Dogs

Chair: Professor Richard Young, Birmingham Law School.

  • “Dogs, the law and language: a discourse of danger”, Dr Alison Sealey, Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics, University of Birmingham and Dr Chris Pak, Researcher on Leverhulme Trust project People, products, pests and pets: the discursive representation of animals.
  • “How Not to Regulate Dangerous Dogs”, Professor Marie Fox, Birmingham Law School.
  • “Caring at the Borders of the Human: Pets and the Homeless”, Dr Helen Carr, Kent Law School.

12.15 - 1.15 lunch

PANEL  2: 1.15 - 3.15:  From Danger to Responsibility

Chair, Dr Julie McCandless, School of Law, LSE

  • “A Responsible Practice? The Ethics of Routinely Neutering Dogs”, Dr Sandra Corr, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham.
  • “Dogs, Owners and Responsibility; Perspectives from Charity Law, past, present and future”, Dr Sarah Wilson, York Law School.
  • “Who is a Responsible Dog Owner?”, Dr Carri Westgarth, MRC Research Fellow, Institute of infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool and Dr Fiona Cooke, School of Law, University of Aberdeen.

3.15 - 3.45 pm: Coffee break

3.45 - 5 pm - Future Research Agendas and Policy Initiatives

Roundtable:  Chaired by Marie Fox

5pm Close and Drinks Reception

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