The death of the animal near Conwy has provoked an angry response, with Sky News’ presenter Kay Burley saying those responsible should feel “shame” and one Facebook user calling them “spineless cowards”. The RSPCA has described it as a “particularly tragic incident”, adding that it is speaking to North Wales police to ascertain what happened.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council says it doesn’t offer official guidance on how to deal with dogs on roads, and that forces and officers must decide for themselves how to react.
“It’s best described as a drastic action, but possibly justified,” says Doug Boulton, a former traffic officer with Staffordshire Police who runs the forensic accident investigation firm D&HB Associates. “There would have been very little time to make this decision. If cars were already swerving there might have been an accident in which a person, a child maybe, was injured or killed.”
The alternatives would have been to close the road and catch the dog, or close the road, and make sure the surrounding area was clear, and shoot it. “Those would be time-consuming and there might not have been enough officers on duty in the area to block off the road in a hurry,” says Boulton. “The officers wouldn’t have done what they did lightly and it must have been horrendous for them to run over the dog.” He adds that he’s never heard of police taking this action before.
North Wales Police says other methods of destroying the dog were considered but rejected because they were too dangerous to drivers. Shutting the road would have been a reasonable option, as the dog was loose at around 03:00, when traffic levels would have been low, says Trevor Cooper, the dog law consultant for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.
“This stray dog would undoubtedly have been frightened and it’s such a shame that an alternative way wasn’t found for him to be contained, then seized and returned home,” he says. “I appreciate that a lost dog being on a road is a danger to road users as well as being a danger to the dog itself, but the appropriate and proportionate way would surely have been to temporarily close the road.”
Under the law in England and Wales a dog is defined as a “chattel” – or possession – meaning police could be prosecuted for criminal damage for killing the foxhound. But a possible defence would be “necessity” – in this case that the action could be justified by the need to ensure safety on the road.
The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 states that methods used to destroy an animal must be “humane”. Cooper questions whether running the dog over rather than shutting the road to catch it would come under this category. “If this had been a cow on the road, then there’s no way that it would have been considered appropriate to run them over,” he says.
North Wales Police says the decision was “not taken lightly” and that officers dealing with the incident had “no alternative”.