Dog attack — it certainly won’t be the last
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.