We need to ban dangerous dogs

MANY years ago, when my kids were very young, we were invited to lunch at a country home. My daughter, who was only five or six, was terrified of the couple's dogs. They were huge, and loud and snarled at her, showing big teeth.

"Oh, they're gentle giants," the hostess said. "They won't hurt her."

"How can you guarantee that?" I asked.

The hostess shrugged. "They've never hurt anyone before."

I thought back to that lunch this morning, when I read of the latest fatal dog attack in Australia. A woman and her partner were attacked by their dog, the woman dying of her injuries.

Presumably, the dog had never killed anyone before. Until it did.

Sadly, this was far from an isolated incident. Just two months ago, Perth woman Sue Lopicich was mauled to death by her bullmastiff, the family pet.

Now, I'm not a dog person, but I do understand the joy that dogs bring. Most of my friends are dog owners, and love their canines with a passion that I reserve for my own offspring. Dogs offer unconditional love and affection, and companionship, and delight.

But dogs are not humans. They can't use language and they can't use reason. If we do compare them to humans, they are most similar to toddlers, who can love and communicate and play, but who don't necessarily understand the consequences of their actions.

Now, every single dog owner I know will, at this point, throw up their hands and say: "Not my dog! My dog understands consequences! My dog is perfectly behaved!"

But some of you will be wrong. The statistics don't lie.

Brock Champion required seven stitches after being bitten on the face by an american staffordshire terrier cross bull mastif in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown — one of 13,000 people to attend hospital after a dog bite each year.
Brock Champion required seven stitches after being bitten on the face by an american staffordshire terrier cross bull mastif in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown — one of 13,000 people to attend hospital after a dog bite each year.

According to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, around 13,000 people each year attend hospital emergency departments in Australia for dog bite injuries. Children under the age of five are most at risk, and are often bitten on the head, face and neck. Some are permanently disfigured, many are traumatised.

Every single year there are fatal dog attacks in Australia. Every single year, someone's 'perfectly behaved' dog kills.

This doesn't mean that dogs don't make great pets. But not all dogs are alike. While many vets argue that almost any dog can attack, only certain breeds of dog are capable of inflicting serious harm. And some breeds pose quite specific risks to human beings and other animals. The american pit bull terrier, for example, is specifically bred for fighting.

The NSW government lists only four breeds of dog as restricted: the american pit bull, or pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, the dogo Argentino (Argentinian fighting dog) and the fila Brasiliero (Brazilian fighting dog).

However, research conducted by Burkes Backyard, found that a number of other breeds were responsible for 75 per cent of all dog bites in Australia: the Australian cattle dog, the bull terrier, the doberman, the german shepherd and the rottweiler.

Again, I can hear the shouts: "Not my rottweiler! Not my german shepherd!" It's the training and the temperament, the owners will argue. Not the breed.

Pit bulls can kill. It is ‘like a toddler with a gun’.
Pit bulls can kill. It is ‘like a toddler with a gun’.

And sure, to an extent, they are right. But dogs are unpredictable. A friend's very large dog, who had been gentle and passive, suddenly became agitated and aggressive after a period of illness. Another friend's dog lashed out when a toddler poked him in the eye. (Yes, toddlers are unpredictable, too).

I defy anyone to argue that every one of the 13,000 dog bite incidents stemmed from poor training or a bad temperament. I defy anyone to argue that every one of those 13,000 could have been foreseen or prevented.

There will always be animal bites. Hell, my cat has bitten me a few times and once or twice pierced the skin. The difference is, of course, that my cat can't kill me. Neither can my friend's poodle or my cousin's schnauzer or my neighbour's pug.

But a pit bull or a rottweiler can kill. So can a number of other breeds being kept as pets. And when they do, the dog lovers will cry: "Oh, but not my pit bull. Not my rottweiler!" Until, one day, it might be.

We here in Australia pride ourselves on our strict gun laws. We do not allow unlicensed or untrained people to hold weapons.

But a pit bull or a rottweiler is a little like a toddler with a gun. It has the power to kill, but if you train it well, it probably won't.

But 'probably' isn't good enough when you're dealing with guns. We need to ban dangerous dogs, like we've banned dangerous weapons. We need national legislation that takes the choice away from the owners, who will always believe that their dogs are the exception.

Because no dog has killed someone until they have. All dogs are safe until they are not.

 

Kerri Sackville is an author and columnist. Find her on Facebook.

American pit bull terriers are bred to fight. They have no place in a suburban backyard.
American pit bull terriers are bred to fight. They have no place in a suburban backyard.


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