It’s not so much been a dog-eat-dog news week – more like dog-eat-cat and dog-eat-human.
Dogs – or more particularly mongrel dogs with bull traits – have hit the headlines yet again this week, throwing back into the spotlight the issue of dangerous dog ownership.
On Monday, we reported three roaming pitbull-type dogs had killed two pet cats in Welcome Bay. The next day, a jogger was attacked by two sharpei-cross dogs in one of our main streets. On Thursday, a reader told us about his pet cat, Molly, which had also been “ripped to pieces by a dog”. Molly was saved by vet Gary Ball, who alarmingly said the run of attacks was not uncommon.
Our reporting of the attacks has given rise to the perennial debate over whether it is the dog itself responsible for the attacks or the owner. That is, are certain dogs, because of their genetic make-up, more prone to attack, or is it the way they are socialised? In today’s inside story on page A14, reporter James Fuller takes an objective look at both sides of the debate.
“It’s not the dog, it’s the owner” is a platitude barked out after every dog attack. James reports that canine experts say dogs are a societal problem and most blame should go on the owners.
Owners do play a huge part in a dog’s socialisation. Yet certain breeds have fighting instincts that are resistant to training and are unpredictable, whether they are treated with love or neglect.
The figures in the report speak for themselves. Pitbulls account for 1.56 per cent of the New Zealand dog population but are responsible for 18 per cent of the bites; 6 per cent of dogs in Tauranga are not registered yet are responsible for a third of all attacks.
Karen Batchelor, media spokeswoman for the American Pit Bull Terrier Association, admits devotees of the breed have been driven underground and that they have been crossbred. That means many pitbull-crosses around are not registered as such, so actual attack figures involving this breed may be even higher than official statistics record.
Ms Batchelor is a staunch supporter of pitbulls. Whenever we report dog attacks, pitbull owners similarly come out in force online, reminding us that any dog can bite. While that is true, it is undeniable that pitbulls and their crosses feature too prominently in attack statistics and news stories.
John Payne, Tauranga City Council manager of environmental compliance, says pitbulls cannot be trusted. “They are dangerous animals and when they do attack they try to effect maximum damage. You are talking about a dog which was bred as a fighting dog in the 19th century.”
Worryingly, some pitbull lovers choose these breeds purely for their viciousness. For this misguided group, dangerous dogs offer the same “cool” status of a weapon. Other owners of pitbulls or their crosses may not have those motives for owning one, but seem concerningly blind to the dangerous nature of the dogs.
Mr Payne says pitbull owners are often surprised when their pet dog suddenly attacks.
In my view, pitbull owners and lovers are a deluded bunch and that ongoing delusion is as dangerous as the unpredictable dogs themselves.
While pitbull representative Ms Batchelor is worried about the pitbulls’ poor image in the media, I and many other Tauranga residents are more worried that we can’t trust to let our kids play outside, go jogging or ride a bike without encountering one of these vicious dogs. The attack on pet cats horrified our readers. If this can happen, then it can also happen to a young child.
While it’s good news that dog attacks in the Bay have decreased, complaints about roaming dogs are on the rise. It is worrying that the council cannot do anything until the dogs actually attack.
Hopefully the decrease in the attacks is due to tougher dog laws introduced in 2003, which included fines for owners of unregistered dogs, and prosecution if dogs inflicted injuries. In my view local government legislation still needs to be tightened, beginning with a full local government inquiry into dangerous dog ownership.
It’s time to stop pussyfooting around these ugly dogs. If measures to prevent attacks are failing, then these breeds should be banned.