Knee jerk

12 June 2007

Last week a young boy was attacked in Offaly by two rottweilers. He was rescued by his father, and was taken to hospital. The dogs were put down.

So now we have to put up with the usual knee-jerk reactions. That these specific breeds are dangerous and shouldn’t be allowed as pets. I have every sympathy with the family. And do believe that dogs need to be controlled, but the fact is that any dog can attack. And any dog can inflict a fatal wound on a person, especially a child.

“I’ve seen virtually every breed involved in fatalities, including Pomeranians and everything else, except a beagle or a basset hound”

The fact is that people do not appreciate that dogs can kill. Sure, a pitbull probably makes a more efficient job of it than a pekinese, but that is simply because humans have bred them to be that way. Statistics show that in America the number of people who die as a result of dog attacks remains fairly stable. What does change is the breeds involved. Having more german shepards means that more german shepards will bite. Thinking of dobermans as “attack dogs” means that people who want that in a dog will get a doberman and, in all likelihood encourage that response through training.

“In 1974,” he says, “we saw more German shepherd, collie, andcocker spaniel bites. Today it’s the Rottweiler, chow, and pitbull. The dogs are a victim of their own popularity.”

In the case in Offaly it seems that the rottweilers were usually kept confined to a back garden, but managed to break out. The owner seems apologetic and remorseful, obviously enough, but maybe questions should be asked about how she kept those dogs? She says that she left them locked in the garden, which, given the fact that this happened on an estate, couldn’t have been the largest space, on Friday and returned on Saturday night. I think the dogs were both year olds, but no where does it say whether they were neutered or not. Entire male dogs are more likely to want to break free and can be more aggressive. There are a lot of questions that need answering before we go down the usual “lets ban this breed” argument, which I’m sure will come up at some point.

Then there is the response from the gardaí. Neighbours in the estate have criticised the gardaí for not doing something after they were informed that the two dogs were running loose. Supposedly two gardaí took a look and decided to call the dog warden, but it took more than an hour to track him down.

A spokesperson for the county dog warden’s office said gardaí left a message on their phone at 9.18pm but dog warden Ray Mulhall was not contacted on his mobile until 9.45pm.

I’m left wondering exactly how many dog wardens there are in Ireland, and was the one in question on or off duty at the time. I’m guessing that 1) there aren’t enough and 2)he was off-duty.

I don’t think that the dogs involved in this specific case were fighting dogs, but they may have been, or maybe dogs used for intimidation purposes, so maybe if a dog warden, or someone trained in handling possibly dangerous dogs, was on hand this all could have been averted.

Are the Gardaí to blame? I don’t think so, yes, they should have gotten in contact with the warden quicker, but unless they were trained to assess the animals then they could have provoked an attack themselves.

Dogs, like people, can be unpredictable, and dangerous. And sometimes accidents happen. I’m not saying that we simply say “oh well, it was an accident”, by all means we should investigate what happened, but knee jerk reactions won’t help anyone.

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