Police will be given new powers to tackle the increased use of dogs as offensive weapons in gang rivalry on housing estates across Britain.
The Times has uncovered a flourishing black market trade in dogs that were banned under an Act of Parliament 18 years ago.
Outlawed dogs, particularly the American pitbull, are being sold openly on the internet and paraded on housing estates across the country.
Some amateur breeders, hoping to make thousands of pounds from a single litter, are cross-breeding pitbulls with mastiffs and Staffordshire bull terriers to get around the Dangerous Dogs Act.
In an attempt to bring the trade under control, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is giving police and the courts the power to deal with the menace of “gang dogs” as part of the Home Office’s wider attempt to tackle gang culture.
Courts will be able to restrict the movement of gang members, ban them from associating with other members and ban them from being in control of a dog if it is being used to intimidate others or encourage violence.
A gang member who breaks the order will face a fine or up to two years in prison.
However, there are doubts that the move will address an urban blight that animal welfare experts say has reached “epidemic” proportions.
Now politicians and the RSPCA are calling on the Government to review what they say are inadequate and outdated dangerous dog laws to address the way that “status dogs” have become a fashion accessory for gang members.
Instances of dogfighting between rival gangs, extreme cruelty intended to toughen dogs and over-breeding have increased dramatically.
The RSPCA has said that many of its veterinary hospitals are unable to cope with the number of abandoned or injured bull-terrier-type dogs and some banned dogs, such as the pitbull. Some have been hit by cars because owners refuse to put them on a lead, while abandoned bitches of some breeds have been found suffering exhaustion and mastitis because of over-breeding.
There has been a huge increase in the number of dogs mauled after being involved in “chain fighting”, where rival gang members, often teenagers, set one dog against another while holding them on a lead.