News Sinead Moriarty

Friday 29 August 2014

You don't let your children go round biting others so why let your dog?

Published 22/10/2013 | 05:00

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Dog breeds that are known to be dangerous should be outlawed

Would you let your child run on to the street with a carving knife when there were other children around? Unlikely. Why then would you allow a dog that could turn nasty to wander freely among children?

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A few weeks ago I took my children for a walk in a big park. Suddenly out of nowhere a huge dog came bounding over and jumped up on my four-year-old, knocking her to the ground. She was completely hysterical. He put his face up to hers and . . . thankfully licked it. But he could just as easily have bitten her.

I was furious. I looked around for the owner who came strolling over, full of good cheer. When I asked him through gritted teeth why he didn't have his dog on a lead, he said the poor dog needed a good run around!

It took ages to calm my daughter down and she is now afraid of dogs. If you choose to own a dog, surely it's your responsibility to ensure it does not terrify children or knock them over.

Just as we don't let our children misbehave or go around biting people, doesn't the same rule apply to dog owners? I understand the need to give a dog a good run around, but a park where lots of families take their children to play is not the right environment.

Equally we don't allow our children to defecate on the path. Neither should dog owners. Some are very diligent about scooping and putting the waste into a bin. But equally there are many who just walk by the lump of steaming faeces deposited by their pet, pretending not to see it.

How would a dog walker like to encounter dirty nappies on a clear day? I doubt they would find it a pleasant addition to their daily stroll.

But it's the constant barrage of stories in the news about children being mauled by dogs that really puts fear in every parent's heart. What if a neighbour's dog turned on your child?

Obviously, no dog owner wants their dog to attack a child, but some dogs have a propensity for it. Studies have shown that pit bulls and rottweilers were the dogs involved in most cases of attack in the US, with 63pc of fatal dog attacks caused by pit bulls.

If a dog poses an unnecessary risk to our children's lives, shouldn't they be outlawed? Pit bulls have been proven to be dangerous and can and will attack without being provoked. So why are they still wandering around freely mauling people?

Outlawing pit bulls may sound harsh, but as I write this, five-year-old Leah Preston is lying in hospital in the UK, being pumped full of painkillers after undergoing surgery for bite wounds to her leg, groin and arm.

And it's not as if she went looking for trouble. She had been playing in her garden when two dogs escaped from a metal cage behind the neighbour's house and attacked her. The dogs were bull mastiffs, a breed of pit bull.

If our children are not safe in their own gardens, how on earth can we protect them?

The Control of Dogs Act, introduced in Ireland in 1986, states that it is an offence to keep a dog unless you have a licence. It also says that your dog must be under your control if it is outside your home or premises. A dog warden can ask you to produce evidence of your dog licence and failure to do so can result in an on-the-spot fine. Have you ever seen a dog warden? I haven't.

The regulation also imposes additional rules in relation to 11 specified dog breeds including pit bulls, dobermans and German shepherds. The rules state that these dogs must be kept on a short, strong lead by a person over 16 years who is capable of controlling them and must be muzzled whenever they are in a public place.

If everyone followed these rules, awful and often lethal attacks wouldn't happen. Unfortunately some people ignore rules and are happy to let their dogs run free, sometimes to the detriment of an innocent child. I have never, on any of my walks, seen a dog with a muzzle. And I've come face to face with pit bulls, dobermans and German shepherds.

Why bother introducing rules if they are going to be ignored by owners and not enforced by local authorities. Where are all these dog wardens that the local authorities are supposed to appoint? They need to come out of hiding and start enforcing the law.

For anyone who owns a pit bull or any dog with a proclivity for anger, for the love of God put a muzzle on it and make sure it doesn't go wandering into a neighbour's garden where young children could be playing.

It's a minor task when you think of the alternative. If you don't take responsibility for your dog and it mauls someone, you could find yourself in court being charged with manslaughter.

Irish Independent

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