Caerphilly: Why has there been a rise in dog attacks in this one area?

Perched on a hillside, sandwiched between the Aber Valley and Caerphilly town, Penyrheol has developed an unwanted tag.

Two deaths from dog attacks, and a further attack on a five-month-old baby, has made Penyrheol the epicentre of the dangerous dogs debate in Wales.

In November 2021, 10-year-old Jack Lis was killed by an XL Bully, shocking the tight knit community.

Just over a year later, there was another as 83-year-old Shirley Patrick died in hospital just weeks after being attacked in her home by a Cane Corso-XL Bully cross.

Jack Lis was killed after going to play with a friend in November 2021.

In May 2023, the community came to the realisation that a tragic pattern was emerging, as a third incident saw a five-month-old baby attacked and hospitalised.

Councillor Steve Skivens, who lives near where the attacks took place, says Penyrheol has a "strong sense of community cohesion" and always rallies together in times of tragedy.

However, he admitted the three incidents have had an impact on people living on the estate.

“I think the first absolutely shocked us all and everybody thought that this was perhaps a one off,” he told ITV’s Wales This Week.

“When we had a second incident, I think people were really numb and that feeling hasn’t gone away completely.”

Councillor Steve Skivens said the attacks on the estate have changed his attitude towards dogs.

Asked whether the attacks have left him and others scared, he said: “I’m very self conscious now, particularly if I see a dog loose. 

“Whereas in the past a dog may have come up to you [without concern], now I’m having second thoughts straight away.

“I think a lot of people in the area are like that, particularly younger children.”

In the wake of the latest attack, a joint meeting was held at the community centre on the estate.

Attended by council members, the police, dog charities, council dog wardens, community safety officers and housing officers, its ambition was to ensure the chance of further attacks happening are minimised.

The community in Penyrheol are desperate for further attacks to be prevented.

In order to do that, Cllr Skivens said it is vital it is understood what is causing the issues.

“I think there are lots of reasons,” he continued. “I think some dogs were moved in that were problematic elsewhere.

“I think some people have dogs for the wrong reasons and I think some dogs are more aggressive than others.”

“I think that the key is the way that the dog is brought up, trained, controlled and the relationship between the owner and the dog.”

'Beast', the dog that killed Jack Lis, is not a banned breed, but had been acting dangerously out of control beforehand.

The dog that killed Jack Lis, named “Beast”, had recently moved into the area. 

Its owner, Brandon Hayden, was eventually sentenced to four years and six months’ in prison, while Amy Salter, who was taking care of the dog, was sentenced to three years. 

The dog had been seen on CCTV acting dangerously out of control in the days leading up to the attack. 

Jack’s mother, Emma Whitfield told ITV’s Wales This Week she doesn’t believe enough is being done to address the issues that have led to three separate attacks in the community she continues to call home. 

Emma Whitfield has been campaigning for a change in the law since her son, Jack, was killed in 2021.

Emma, who is now campaigning for a change in the laws around dog ownership, said: “I feel like it should never have happened in the first place, it feels like nobody’s listened or learned from mistakes.

“Everyone around my area knows what happened, and I don’t understand how it can keep happening.

“Nobody should be losing their family member or their child in the way that we have. I need it to stop.”

Gwent Police seized 13 banned breeds of dog in February, as part of a crackdown on dangerous dogs. 

However, the dogs that killed Jack and Ms Patrick are not banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

The four banned breeds in the UK are Japanese Tosas, Dogo Argentinos, Pitbulls and Fila Brasileiros.

XL Bullies, and Bully crosses, are renowned for their power, size and muscle mass.

However, they have been introduced to the UK since Pitbulls, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasileiros and Japanese Tosas were banned.

While animal charities and dog experts maintain that no one breed is more likely to attack than any other, the way bully breed dogs are bred, kept and sold is of concern as their numbers have exploded across the UK over the last decade. 

Hope Rescue in Llanharan, is responsible for looking after stray dogs across the South Wales Valleys, including in Caerphilly. 

It currently has a number of bully breeds in its care. 

Sara Rosser, the centre’s resident behaviourist, said: “Where the problems have come is that dogs are being bred irresponsibly, there’s no concern for health, there’s no concern for behaviour or welfare.

“[They are] then being bought by owners who are just interested in the way they look. And then are not giving the right socialising, the right training. 

“We’re also seeing a large number of this type of breed coming in with ears that have been cropped.”

A coalition of animal charities including Hope Rescue, the RSPCA and Dogs Trust have teamed up to call for a change in the law both to prevent attacks on people and to strengthen animal welfare.

The RSPCA are one of several organisations calling for a change in the law.

The RSPCA’s Sam Gaines told ITV Cymru Wales: “The current approach isn’t working. 

“Public safety’s not effectively protected and dog welfare isn’t protected either. We urgently need reform and consolidation of dog legislation.”

The UK Government is responsible for dangerous dog legislation in the UK. While it has confirmed it has launched a working group to discuss how any changes to the law would be introduced, its preliminary findings are not expected until later this year.

Eighteen months on from the death of Jack Lis, and having now had multiple dog attacks on its patch, Gwent Police has announced it is planning to use a new safety partnership initiative.

It is one that has been successfully rolled out by other police forces, and is expected to be up and running in Caerphilly by the end of the summer. 

Watch Wales This Week: When Dogs Attack on ITV Cymru Wales at 8:30pm on Thursday, June 8. The programme will also be available on ITVX.