Saturday, 17 April 2010

Dangerous dogs are made, not born

Yet another young child has been killed in a savage attack by a dog. The uncle of the girl, only 18 months old, has been held on suspicion of manslaughter and the animal was destroyed. No doubt, this will set of another round of debate on "dangerous" dogs. Also of no doubt is that the substance of the debate will miss the point entirely.

During the last such tragedy, four year old Jean-Paul Massey on Merseyside, much was made of the fact that the dog in question was a Pit Bull. The breed is banned in Britain under the Dangerous Dogs Act. This led to hysterical calls for a much tougher enforcement of the law, and the image of the snarling Pit Bull as an image of fear and horror once again did the rounds in the media.

Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, will tell you this is nonsense. With his now-deceased Pit Bull, Daddy, he challenged "their image as violent, savage, uncontrollable beasts" and "stood as champion for calm-submissive pit bulls everywhere." Commenting on a similar ban in Miami-Dade, he notes that "banning the dog doesn’t solve the problem," but "only creates fear and ignorance." The fact is that "Pit Bulls were designed by people to be gladiators" and "it is a human’s responsibility to redirect that energy into something positive like search and rescue. It doesn’t matter the breed."

Kate Belgrave argues a similar point in her blog Hangbitch;
The act has been no picnic for dogs, either: with its emphasis on banning breeds (the pitbull type terrier, the Japanese Tosa, and the rarely-seen-here-anyway Dogo Argentino and the Fila Brasileiro) the DDA has succeeded mainly in contributing to the global destruction of the reputation of dogs that had – particularly in the pit-type dog’s case – a great history as favoured companions and champions. They were never bred for conflict with people, as we’ll see.

By virtue of their illegality, they’ve become attractive to a small number of dog owners who like the thought of a canine fiend.

They’re thrown into pits for illegal dogfights (I know three rescue dogs, Ace, Tazz and Channa, who were rescued from owners who used them as pit bait. Their new owners walk them in Greenwich park, where we walk our dog).
Indeed, Pit Bulls "don’t come out of the box as uberkillers with special fangs and an innate inclination to go batshit." They are reared that way, with starvation and torment often a part of their "training" to be a "weapon dog."

The solution is not more legislation, or any kind of breed specific bans, but a recognition that the owners are to blame for these deaths. Not the dogs. Belgrave outlines the proposals being put forward based upon this realisation;
So it is that the Dogs Trust is lobbying all three political parties to shift the DDA’s emphasis. They wants all dogs microchipped at point of exchange, so that dogs can be traced to original breeders – the trust is working with local authorities on a UK wide chipping campaign.

They also want doggie Asbos – the early identification of dogs and owners that have begun to cause trouble, and compulsory obedience training, neutering, and leads and muzzles for problem dogs.

The Communication Workers Union, which represents postal workers (6,000 of whom are attacked by dogs each year) and keeps numbers on dog attacks, is of like mind. ‘We’re very much of the ‘it’s the deed, not the breed’ point of view,’ says spokesman Karl Stewart. ‘And we’d agree that the DDA’s emphasis on breeds has missed the point somewhat.’

The CWU wants the DDA changed to allow prosecution of owners whose dogs attack on private property. At the moment, the law only targets people with dogs ‘that are dangerously out of control in a public place,’ which isn’t terribly helpful for posties, who by law must deliver mail to all addresses.
Such an approach needs to be ironed out and explored in depth, of course. But there can be no doubt that it will be far more effective than hysteria about and demonisation of specific breeds. Such a reaction does nothing except impede any course of action that could actually prevent more such tragic attacks on children from occurring.