Every year our newspapers report incidents where dogs attack babies and small children (quite recently an animal ran amok in a playground biting and injuring several kids before it was subdued). In 1991 there was a moral panic about such events which led to the passing of the Dangerous Dogs Act which restricted the breeding of certain types of dog and increased penalties for failure to control animals.
However, the problem of dangerous dogs is not a modern phenomenon but it seems it was dealt with less seriously in the past, as this case from 1840 indicates.
John Wallis Lambar kept a stable in Castle Court (off Oxford Street) and lived round the corner at Berners Street, was brought into Marylebone Police Court accused of owning a ‘ferocious’ dog. The animal had bitten a small girl who was playing outside the small tenements where she lived. The dog ran out of the stables and attacked her, biting her in the eye.
The child’s mother, a Mrs Shee, told the court that it wasn’t the first time the animal had attacked children in the area. Mr Lambar (‘who seemed to treat the matter quite lightly’) said his pet was far from dangerous and was instead ‘a very quiet animal’ and would not have bitten anyone ‘unless interfered with’. The court then heard supporting evidence that suggested otherwise, and that the dog was something of a menace in the community.
The magistrate recommended that Lambars compensate Mrs Shee and her daughter and that he secure his dog more carefully in the future. Today I would expect that the poor animal would have been destroyed.
[from The Morning Post, Saturday, June 06, 1840]