Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Dog bites child

The NHS is reporting a 40% increase in dog bites over the last four years, but in London the number of dog bites has doubled. Children under the age of 9 are the most frequent victims.

According to a BBC story this morning:

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, called for more to be done to make people aware of the risks of irresponsible dog ownership.

The Liberal Democrats want to see stricter legal duties laid on dog owners, and control orders to impose conditions on ownership - or in severe cases disqualify irresponsible owners.

Of the attack figures Mr Lamb added: "These are dramatic increases. I think in some communities these dogs have become a badge of honour, a fashion accessory in a way, and I think that's very disturbing."

I've certainly noticed an increase in the number of Staffordshire Bull Terriers (or allied breeds). I see them in parks (we spend a lot of time in parks these days) and on the street. Quite often not on a leash. Quite often accessorised in an intimidating fashion (spiked collars and the like). And quite often in the company of people whom I would not describe as responsible owners.

It scares me to death. They could have Buddy away in an instant and there'd be absolutely nothing I could do about it.

Defenders of the breed say that it's not the animals, it's the owners.

OK. It's the owners. But these are dangerous breeds because they can inflict serious damage. And the owners are brutalising their animals. I've witnessed it myself and I've seen the evidence in public parks.

Some owners seem appalled at the notion that their precious pups could be used to maim:

A lot of people look at them horrified, like you've got Satan himself on the end of your lead," says Marian Waller of Dulwich, south London, owner of a Staffordshire bull terrier named Teddy. "They look at you like you're taking the Hound of the Baskervilles for a walk." She adds, "They'll cross the road to get away. I don't know why, because they're great with people. (The Independent, July 2006)
Yep. I'm one of those people. Because Ms Waller, I just don't know if you're one of those people who encourages a happy friendly pup or if you've tortured your dog into some kind of killing machine. And even if you look like the next Miss Marple, how do I know that you're not looking after the dog for your teenaged, hoodlum grandson and the dog is much, much more than you can handle. And frankly, there's no way I can know.

We know that these dogs were bred to fight and to maim and to kill. And yes, in the right hands and in the right circumstances I'm sure they can be wonderful dogs. But many of the breed are ending up in the wrong hands:

Typical new breed of owner: young lad, aged 15-22. Typical purpose for having the dog: to gain respect, to intimidate, to use as a form of protection, and sometimes for crime.
And they're certainly ending up in the wrong circumstances. If people were just wanting canine companionship they probably wouldn't opt for a larger, dangerous breed in the crowded conditions of Inner London. For when I talk about seeing these dogs on the streets, I'm talking about the congested sidewalks of the local town centres of London. People naturally brush against each other, old people, babies and toddlers in strollers, the noise of traffic, and increasingly other dogs. (Even fans of the breed acknowledge that the males are prone to fight each other).

My council, Wandsworth, is taking action on dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners, but frankly it couldn't happen soon enough.

Wandsworth Council's leader, Edward Lister, is also calling for a new licensing system - including a minimum age for keeping a dog - to deal with the problem of irresponsible ownership.

The new licences would require stringent tests preventing those deemed unsuitable from owning a dog. We need sharper powers if we are to tackle this problem proactively."

Coun Lister added: "A risk-based approach to dog ownership would identify those animals for which a licence would be necessary. It could include, for example, all types of bull terrier - going beyond the very narrow list covered by the Dangerous Dog Act.

"Crucially it would also look at who was owning and controlling the dog. In our experience in Wandsworth most of the problems are with animals owned by young people aged 13-17.

"There should be a minimum age for ownership. You could add a fit and proper person test which would weed out many other unsuitable types. The critics might say this would be as unworkable as the current legislation or as irrelevant as the old licence system. That would be giving up before we've started.

Dog defenders are quick to blame irresponsible owners. If that's really the problem, then licensing seems like an ideal solution. If the dogs are inherently dangerous, then they just don't belong in crowded urban environments.

1 comment:

KathyF said...

I love dogs more than probably anyone else in the world. But I've been bitten, and attacked again the next week. I crossed the street yesterday when I saw a german shepherd lunging at his leash to get to me and my sweet little doggie (okay, she weighs 75 lbs, but she is sweet).

I love dogs, but I no longer trust them. And I trust their owners even less. There's a yellow lab--a good-natured breed--in our park who comes running toward Bailey, intending to rape her, every time he sees us. I pull him off, yell at him, and his owner, an aging woman on a bicycle, does nothing. You better believe I will sue the pants off her if Duke ever bites me. (Hopefully Duke's got some ancestral property I can claim.)