This first week of January brings news of two very preventable tragedies. Two young girls lost their lives in dog attacks. The first happened in Thomasville, Georgia, where a 5 year old girl was playing on a trampoline in her yard, without adult supervision. Also in the yard were three dogs – one of which was pregnant and the other two were chained. One of the dogs broke its chains as the girl jumped up and down, likely agitating or exciting the dogs, and attacked her.
The second happened in Australia where a 3- year-old girl was killed and her 15-month old sister critically injured by a pack of dogs. The children were in the care of a babysitter who was also the owner of the dogs. It is believed the girls were unsupervised at the time of the attack.
The dogs involved in these attacks are reported to be “pit bulls” and bull mastiffs. However, breed is not the issue here. What is important are the circumstances that led up to the fatal attacks. Two little lives were lost because young children were left unsupervised with dogs. One of the fundamentals of dog ownership is that you never, ever leave small children alone with a dog – regardless of the size or breed of the dog.
Have no doubt, NOBODY gets any pleasure in fault finding or finger-pointing, especially under tragic circumstances, but our unwillingness to get to the bottom of these attacks will certainly only result in future tragedies. In an interview regarding the Australia fatality, Hugh Worth, President of the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), stated, “People out there aren’t listening and now we have another life gone.” Truer words have never been spoken. “NEVER LEAVE children alone with dogs,” Steve Lawrie, CEO of the RSPCA stated emphatically. Mr. Lawrie went on to state that this message is one of the primary missions of his work, and that when he says “never”, he means that there are no exceptions. “It is fundamental, ” he emphasizes. “Our message is don’t EVER leave children alone with dogs.”
As a society, we must come to the realization that dog owners owe their families, their communities and their dogs a duty to educate themselves on responsible dog ownership. As long as we continue to let irresponsible and negligent dog owners off the hook and place the blame solely on the dog, we will never, ever see a decrease in dog bites and/or dog attacks. According to the National Canine Research Council, From 2005-2007, increased focus on negligent and criminal human behaviors has resulted in 31% of owners and/or parents of young victims being criminally charged. Holding owners accountable for the humane treatment, containment, and control of their dogs is the only way to minimize incidence of canine aggression.
Riding the coattail of the two horrific attacks this week comes the news that the RSPCA in the United Kingdom is calling for a repeal of Section 1 of the Dangerous Dog Act of 1991 — the section that bans particular breeds of dogs. A report issued last year in the UK indicated that over the past ten years (and despite the banning of specific breeds of dogs), dog bites in the UK are up fifty percent. By moving forward with this proposal, the UK can put itself in a position to follow the example set by the Netherlands in repealing breed specific legislation and replacing it with a law that puts the burden of responsibility on owners, rather than destroying dogs who are guilty of nothing more than looking a certain way.
We’ve seen much progress in this respect over the past year. As mentioned above, the Netherlands repealed their pit bull ban that had been in place for 15 years after statistics revealed the ban had no effect on dog bites and did not increase public safety. In addition, Aurora, Colorado issued long awaited statistics after the first year of the implementation of their pit bull ban with the very same conclusion – overall dog bites were up. While not issued this year, a five year study from Spain regarding their dangerous dog law indicated the same things… bites from targeted breeds were down, while bites from other breeds were up. The statistics from all these places show that despite a decrease in bites from targeted dogs (obviously, this is cause and effect, if you decrease the number of dogs of a certain breed, bites from that breed will go down). BUT… dog bites from other breeds increased because the same irresponsible owners just got different dogs.
The key to preventing dog attacks has and will always be public education. According to Michael Daley, Acting Local Government Minister, New South Wales has the toughest dangerous dog laws in Australia. Despite this, no law can prevent the lack of parental supervision and/or the lack of public education and awareness. Those strict NSW laws did not save Ruby Lea Bourke, but public education very would could have. How many more preventable tragedies have to occur before we realize this?
All statistics and research reveal that breed bans DO NOT ensure public safety – the goal cited by those who push for the passage of breed specific legislation. Sure, those who support breed specific legislation can do their “fact” searches on websites that do nothing but track media reports and offer biased opinions regarding certain breeds of dogs. However, by doing so, you can be certain that the information obtained is manipulated, prejudicial and far from accurate. It is rare that I refer to “those website” as they are maintained by people with agendas based on nothing more than generating public fear to achieve a desired outcome. Moreover, it is extremely unfortunate that those agendas are aimed ONLY at eliminating certain breeds of dogs rather than promoting public safety or “sensible laws” as they profess to be.
To put it simply, those websites are nothing more than PROPAGANDA….
(1) information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely
to help or harm a person, group, movement, etc.
(2) the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.
Unabridged Random House Dictionary
It is beyond me why websites such as dogsbite.org are viewed as evidence to support breed bans (other than the simple fact that they help bolster the proposals of uneducated public officials who are trying to rationalize ineffective laws). Quite frankly, the mere allegation that someone has been the victim of a dog attack does not make that person an expert on dog attacks, nor does it qualify them to dispense advice on the matter. Let’s face it, just because I can drive a car, doesn’t mean I am ready to become the editor of Car and Driver Magazine or offer driving tips to Mario Andretti.
Its time for common sense to take the place of hysteria. Statistics – not the media – should rule in decisions of public safety, and the statistics from across the globe clearly indicate that banning specific breeds of dogs does not promote public safety. In effect, it simply gives a community a false sense of security.
Can dog attacks ever be completely prevented? Of course not. There will always be irresponsible and negligent owners. Those people who just do not care. However, if we hold those owners accountable for the actions of their dogs and the damages they incur, we can greatly minimize the occurrences of future tragedies.