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Friends, status symbols and weapons: the use of dogs by youth groups and youth gangs

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Abstract

Recent UK media reports and government responses evidence a rising concern over irresponsible dog ownership, particularly the use of so-called status or weapon dogs. Youth criminal and antisocial behaviour using these dogs has been widely reported in urban areas and associated with street-based youth groups, in particular, the growing phenomenon of UK youth gangs. This article reports on the findings and implications of a small-scale study, comprising interviews with 25 youths and seven animal welfare and youth practitioners, which aimed to identify the nature of animal use and abuse in youth groups and gangs. It found that over half of the youths belonged to a youth gang and the remainder a youth group, with the majority owning an animal which was most often a ‘status’ dog (e.g., bull breed/type). Analysis revealed that dogs were used mainly for socialising and companionship, protection and enhancing status. More than 20 types of animal abuse were described by youths and practitioners.

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Notes

  1. Breed/type (herein identified as breed) refers to these breeds and their crosses and the fact that the four prohibited dogs (under the UK DDA 1991) are referred to as 'type' in legislation, rather than legally recognized breeds.

  2. Exemptions may be made for dogs with ‘responsible’ owners to be placed on a register [14].

  3. These dogs, traditionally bred for blood sports, are banned due to their apparent high aggression drive—see Collier [11] for detailed criticisms of this assertion and the breed-specific legislation.

  4. For an in depth discussion the sparse literature available on gangs in the UK -see Maher (2007) Angles with Dirty Faces: Youth Gangs and Troublesome Youth Groups. Unpublished PhD Thesis. University of Glamorgan.

  5. Masculinity refers to the gender role attributed to males and the different ways of ‘doing male’ [31]. Crisis of masculinity refers to the conflicting pressures upon men, in modern society, to construct a masculine identity with limited resources (e.g. traditional role of being the breed-winner) – with many turning to violence as the means of doing so. It should be noted that theorists identify a spectrum of masculinities – which focus on various aspects of what it is to be male—see [26].

  6. Also known as street-based (rather than linked to a youth provision centre) youth workers—focus on reaching and engaging with the most socially excluded and ‘hard-to-reach youths in their community.

  7. This legislation is currently under review in England and Wales.

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Correspondence to Jennifer Maher.

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Maher, J., Pierpoint, H. Friends, status symbols and weapons: the use of dogs by youth groups and youth gangs. Crime Law Soc Change 55, 405–420 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10611-011-9294-5

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