Dog at­tack — it cer­tainly won’t be the last

Waikato Times - - Opinion - Tom O’Con­nor

The hor­rific dog at­tack on a wo­man last week high­lights yet again the ur­gent need to re­vamp our dog con­trol leg­is­la­tion. The un­for­tu­nate 60 year-old Opotiki wo­man was at­tacked by three dogs which left her with deep lac­er­a­tions to her head, neck, ab­domen and legs. She was flown to Tau­ranga Hos­pi­tal in a crit­i­cal but sta­ble con­di­tion for treat­ment. The at­tack could eas­ily have been fa­tal.

The three dogs were a Rot­tweiler cross, Stafford­shire bull ter­rier cross; and a nine-year-old bull­dog cross be­longed to her brother and she was known to them.

All dogs in New Zealand over the age of three months must be reg­is­tered and, apart from farm work­ing dogs, must be mi­crochipped, but those mea­sures will not pre­vent a se­ri­ous at­tack of this kind and there have been sev­eral over the years. In 2015 two Amer­i­can Stafford­shire ter­ri­ers at­tacked three other dogs and two women near the Waikato River which was also a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the in­ad­e­quacy of our cur­rent dog con­trol leg­is­la­tion.

For the past two hun­dred years or more sev­eral ter­rier types were bred specif­i­cally to em­pha­sise ag­gres­sion and strength.

They were used for fight­ing each other, bears and bulls and some breeds even­tu­ally be­came so dan­ger­ous that sev­eral can­not be im­ported to New Zealand. Oth­ers, in­clud­ing sev­eral bull ter­ri­ers and their hy­brid off­spring, are al­ready here and they fea­ture very highly in dog at­tacks on peo­ple. More than 12 per cent of dog at­tacks are by bull ter­ri­ers which make up less than two per cent of the na­tional dog pop­u­la­tion. Most of these at­tacks seemed to have been un­pre­dicted and dif­fi­cult to stop even by their own­ers and therein lies some of the prob­lem. It is near im­pos­si­ble to com­pletely counter two cen­turies of breed­ing with any form of train­ing. They are hard-wired to at­tack with very lit­tle provo­ca­tion.

All the an­i­mals we own, ei­ther as pets, farm live­stock or in zoos have the po­ten­tial to at­tack us when things go wrong. A dis­grun­tled house cat will scratch and bite when an­noyed and even a budgie will nip an of­fend­ing fin­ger but big­ger an­i­mals pose a more se­ri­ous threat. When an an­gry toy poo­dle bites it leaves painful tooth marks but lit­tle else. When a ter­rier at­tacks it hangs on and shakes vig­or­ously in a pow­er­ful killer bite in­flict­ing im­mense dam­age to skin, flesh and bone. These dogs have a wel­learned rep­u­ta­tion for un­pro­voked ag­gres­sion and most peo­ple keep away from them.

All of these at­tacks have one thing in com­mon; in­ad­e­quate train­ing and poor con­trol.

Even with ex­per­tise tragic ac­ci­dents oc­cur. Farm­ers have been gored to death by cat­tle and killed by horses. Zoo keep­ers have been killed by big cats and even an ele­phant in re­cent times. These peo­ple were ex­perts and pro­fes­sion­als who knew the an­i­mals they were work­ing with and knew the risks in­volved. With dogs there is no re­quire­ment to know any­thing. Any­one can own any dog apart from the few which are pro­hib­ited, and dis­as­ter is an all too com­mon re­sult.

We need to shift the em­pha­sis from the dogs to their own­ers. Not to ap­ply ret­ro­spec­tive puni­tive mea­sures af­ter an at­tack but for pre-emp­tive preven­tion so that at­tacks don’t hap­pen. That could mean re­quir­ing aspir­ing dog own­ers to have ad­e­quate jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and ex­per­tise to qual­ify for own­er­ship, par­tic­u­larly of cer­tain breeds.

Own­ing a spaniel for com­pan­ion­ship, a re­triever for game­bird hunt­ing or one of the many work­ing breeds for farm­ing should not pose a dif­fi­culty. How­ever own­ing a pow­er­ful fight­ing breed for com­pan­ion­ship in town would be a very dif­fer­ent mat­ter. Too many of these po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous dogs are lit­tle more than sta­tus sym­bols pa­raded around the streets and parks by peo­ple with lit­tle knowl­edge of dogs or how to train and con­trol them. Even many ex­pert pig hunters avoid them for be­ing overly ag­gres­sive and un­pre­dictable but not all pig hunters are ex­pert dog han­dlers. Some pig hunt­ing packs are more ag­gres­sive and dan­ger­ous than wolf packs.

It is usual for dogs which at­tack peo­ple to be de­stroyed and the owner fined but that won’t pre­vent the next at­tack. Most own­ers and breed­ers of these dogs vow that their pets are safe and re­li­able and, with­out doubt most are, but the only dog which can be guar­an­teed not to bite is the one with­out teeth. Even then they will in­flict a se­ri­ous gum­ming with provo­ca­tion. Fight­ing dog breeds can be safe in the right com­pany, in the right sur­round­ings and un­der ex­pert con­trol. Re­move any one of those qual­i­fi­ca­tions and the pos­si­bil­ity of a tragic at­tack is too greater a risk for in­no­cent peo­ple to be asked to take.


Dogs bred for ag­gres­sion com­bined with own­ers with­out the ex­pe­ri­ence to con­trol them is a dan­ger­ous mix.


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