Who let the dogs out? Quite a lot of people, it would appear. There seems to have been a massive increase in dog attacks in the last few months in both Ireland and the UK and it’s genuinely concerning.
The most recent Irish example of a dog attack is currently before the courts, so it can’t be commented upon, but some of the ones in the UK have been absolutely horrific.
An elderly lady in Lincolnshire was savaged by some pit bulls, with all the horrible injures that you would expect from such an ordeal. A boy of just eight was attacked by a loose dog off the leash and has been left with life-changing injuries. The owner apparently mumbled some sort of apology before dragging the dog away and refused to give his name to the distraught family.
It wasn’t the first time something like this has happened and it won’t be the last. Plenty of Irish observers have blamed lockdown for the current spike in dog attacks.
Certainly, it’s true that many people picked up a pooch when they found themselves stuck at home and it’s equally true that many of them simply don’t know how to control their pet.
While that may well be a factor in the current issue, it doesn’t tell the full story. After all, between 2016 and 2021, which are the most recent records, a whopping 1,700 attacks on humans by dogs were recorded in this country.
Wexford, for some bizarre reason, seemed to be the place where you were most likely to bitten by a cantankerous canine, but every county in the country saw an increase in attacks. Why?
Well, the answer is simple, but the solution is intractable – because it involves human folly and laziness when it comes to properly training and controlling their pet.
They don’t seem to care about other people and they certainly don’t seem to recognise the fact that some people are deeply afraid of dogs. Even though I was bitten a couple of times when I was a kid, I always presumed it was my fault – which it was.
But I learned some important lessons. It’s true that you should let sleeping dogs lie and never startle them by trying to wake them up with a cuddle. If a dog is eating, leave it alone because it will just think you’re trying to take its food.
As regular readers may know, I’m both a dog owner and a dog lover.
I got my first dog when I was seven and I’ve always adored them. Since my first mutt, my beloved black labrador, Sheba – who lived for 15 years and I still miss her and dream about her – any dog that has been under my care has slept on my bed and was treated to the best of food, given regular walks and trained how to behave.
Sadly, that basic duty of care seems to be simply anathema to many owners, who now seem to view large dogs as some sort of weird status symbol and also a handy way of intimidating other people.
There’s been a lot of talk about the dangers of restricted breeds such as pit bulls, but ultimately the real danger comes from the feckless owners who refuse to take any civic responsibility when it comes to controlling their animal.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin recently addressed the Dáil (there is further discussion planned for later this week) and said that he couldn’t see the point of people owning supposedly ‘dangerous’ breeds.
He has a point, but it’s deeply unfair to demonise all large dogs. I’m always wary of large dogs when I’m out walking my pair of small rescue dogs, but my first instinct is to look at the owner rather than the dog.
That’s because you can tell a lot about the dog from the demeanour of their human companion. I’m not ashamed to say that there have been a few occasions when I’ve swiftly turned in the opposite direction because I could sense an air of menace. Maybe that’s unfair.
I also remember the time when I had to kick a dog as hard as I could when it went after my pair in a remarkably aggressive fashion. And I never want to kick a dog. Frankly, I would rather have kicked the owner, but he scarpered as soon he saw the attack take place.
On the other hand, there’s a couple of large rottweilers that I occasionally encounter on my wanderings and the greatest danger these imposing-looking beasts pose is that they might lick you to death.
They don’t seem to realise their own size and still behave like puppies who are just delighted to meet a stranger who might even give them a little treat.
The vet Pete Wedderburn was entirely correct when he said that we don’t need new laws regarding dogs. We just need to enforce the ones that have been on the books since the 1990s.
These laws are clear and concise. Of the 10 ‘dangerous’ breeds, they must be muzzled at all times in a public place. They should never be walked by anyone under the age of 16 who might not be able to control them and all dogs should be microchipped, so they can be identified quickly.
Yet, when it comes to some dog owners, it seems common sense is in short supply. Apart from common sense, it often seems that there’s also a desperate shortage of manners from some owners. We see that in the amount of doggy poop that so many owners are happy to leave in their wake.
Who doesn’t carry some pooper scoopers with them to clean up the mess?
Stepping in dog poo is an irritant for many of us, but I have a friend in a wheelchair who says it’s the bane of his life and you can’t blame him. I can understand his fury when he realises that he has just wheeled over a large pile of dog poop and then has to clean it up before he can go into his house.
There’s obviously a lot to be said for training our dogs to behave in an appropriate manner. But maybe it’s time we started to think about training some of the owners as well.
There’s also another point when it comes to enforcement – do dog wardens actually exist or are they just a figment of our imagination? Are they like leprechauns?