CHANGES to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 have come into effect giving police greater powers to tackle irresponsible owners.

The legislation has been extended to include all private property meaning that for the first time dog owners will no longer be immune from prosecution if their dog attacks somebody in the home.

The maximum sentence for the owner of a dog who kills somebody has been raised from two years to 14 years and owners face up to five years imprisonment if their dog injures somebody.

The change in legislation will also provide additional protection to people who visit homes such as health visitors, postal staff and utility workers but it does not protect trespassers.

Dog attacks on people have happened the length and breadth of the UK, and the Falmouth area is no exception, after a dog mauled first year pharmacy student Suzy Powell, from Devoran, leaving a wound so deep it took 12 stitches to close.

The Staffordshire bull terrier attacked the 19-year-old on Comfort Road between the Norway Inn and Mylor Primary School in the Mylor Bridge area in 2012.

The dog was destroyed after it was found by the police.

National policing lead for dangerous dogs, Deputy Chief Constable Gareth Pritchard said: “I welcome this new legislation which is a significant step forward in improving dog control, public safety and responsible dog ownership.

“While this new legislation cannot be enforced retrospectively, I hope it is of some small comfort to the families of the 12 children and eight adults who have lost their lives in dog attacks. The increase in sentencing for the owner of a dog who kills a person from 2 to 14 years recognises the gravity of these offences.

“My fellow police officers have reported being extremely frustrated with their lack of powers to investigate dog attacks in private places resulting in serious injuries. This new power will protect workers who visit people’s homes to provide essential services such as; health visitors, midwives, utility workers and postal staff, all who have to date been unprotected.

“Attacks on assistance dogs such as guide dogs have also been recognised in the new legislation and will also be subject to a maximum sentence of 3 years – a welcome change given the huge impact this can have, not only on the dog, but of course its owner who relies so heavily upon on the animal for support.

“This new law is not designed to penalise owners of overexcited dogs who nip or homeowners protecting their property from intruders. It is about preventing and appropriately punishing those who do not take responsibility for their animal.

“We have all seen the devastation caused by a dog attack. Most dog owners care and look after their dogs very well. I hope that the new powers and penalties will make irresponsible owners think about properly training and controlling their dogs, and put an end to needless deaths and suffering.”