The number of dangerous dogs seized by Nottinghamshire Police following attacks on humans and other animals has rocketed over the past five years.
According to figures released by the constabulary following a Freedom of Information request, the number of seizures has risen from just one in 2010, to more than 80 last year.
Police say the most recent spike is due to a change in legislation brought in during 2015 - where it became a criminal offence if a dog attacked on private land.
But the data shows a huge year-on-year increase before the law change.
In 2010, just one dog was seized in the county, which was subsequently destroyed.
By 2015, figures to early December when the information was requested, showed that total of 81 dogs had been seized, of which 38 had been destroyed with a further nine were awaiting court decisions.
Of the dogs seized, a total of 14 were from the Mansfield and Ashfield areas.
Dog legislation officer PC Steve Feary said: “Historically the police had very little dealings with dogs, there was civil legislation under the Dogs Act 1871, that allowed the courts to place control orders on dogs or have them destroyed if they were dangerous and not kept under proper control.
“Most incidents involving dogs were dealt with by the RSPCA, advising owners of how to keep their dogs. With some dogs that had severely bitten a person being voluntarily destroyed by the owner.
“It wasn’t until 1991 and The Dangerous Dogs Act, that legislation was introduced with the specific intention of protecting the public from dangerous dogs, including specific breeds, particularly the pit bull terrier.
“However much of this legislation was limited to public places and over time, appeal courts diluted the intentions of Parliament by making more places private, than were intended by the writers of the act.
“Many of the dog attacks that the police had dealt with prior to 2014 had taken place in private places, therefore there was no criminal offences under the Dangerous Dogs Act, although some owners faced prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act or for neglecting children.
“This was recognised by Parliament after eight adults and 12 children had died from dog attacks between 2005 and 2014, most of which occurred in private, and the Dangerous Dogs Act was amended to include all places, public and private. “Since the changes in May 2014 there has been an increase in the number of reported incidents of dog bites, many of these are dealt with at the lowest levels, where control orders are placed on the dogs, usually to be muzzled in public, but where the police believe that the dog is a danger to public safety or that the owner is not a fit and proper person then we will seize the dog and if the owner has not voluntarily destroyed the dog, we will ask the court for this to be enforced.
“Seizures of dogs were not recorded centrally prior to 2010/2011 until the introduction to Nottinghamshire of a Dog Legislation Officer.
“However, the recent increase in the number of seizures is most likely due to an education program to increased awareness from police officers and staff, for the need to protect public safety, particularly in regard to the safeguarding of children.”
Last year there was also a 20 per cent increase in the number of dogs being stolen nationally - with almost 30 pets stolen in Derbyshire, according to police figures.
But many campaigners say the figure is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ with many thefts not being reported to police.
In Nottinghamshire a total of 19 dogs were recorded as stolen last year - of which five were described as Staffordshire bull terriers.
Other high-risk breeds in the county include spaniels and German shepherds - although breeds including labradors, rottweilers, pugs and and terriers were also reported stolen.
Many dogs are stolen by organised criminal gangs and then shipped abroad, while instances of dog-napping and people keeping pedigree dogs that they find straying, are also on the rise. Dogs are also stolen to be used as ‘bait dogs’ by dog-fighting gangs, sold to be used in animal testing, or used as breeding dogs.
Chairman of the Dog Theft Action charity, Sylvia Tabor, said: “For thieves, the rewards can be high and the risks low. So it’s sadly seen as easy money. “In law, dogs are classed as property like a TV, so sentences are low for taking a living creature away from its family.
“Unfortunately, it can also often be seen as a low priority by police. Staffies seem particularly high on the list as they can be used in dog fighting and as guard dogs.”
Animal charity the Blue Cross offers the following advice to owners to reduce the risk of their dog being stolen:
Think twice before leaving your dog tied up outside a shop.
Don’t leave your dog alone in the car, even for a few minutes.
Make sure your dog is micro-chipped and that you keep your contact details up-to-date, especially if you move house or change your telephone number.
Your dog should always wear a collar and ID tag with your name and address on it. This is a legal requirement when your dog is in a public place. Avoid putting your dog’s name on the disc.
Take clear photographs of your dog from various angles, and update them regularly. nMake a note of any distinguishing features.
Vary your times of walks and routes; some dogs are actually targeted and snatched during walks.
At home, make sure your garden is secure and fit a bell to the gate so you hear if anyone opens it.
Keep your dog in view in the garden, don’t just leave him outside unsupervised.
If you breed puppies for sale, take great care when inviting people in to view; ideally have someone else present and limit the numbers of people you allow in at a time.