Feb 19, 2014 13:446
OPINION BY FLEET STREET FOX
Dog attacks are usually linked to human stupidity – why blame a dumb, stressed, abused animal when it does what comes naturally?
Eliza-Mae was killed yesterday, at just six days old.
Ava-Jayne Corless was 11 months when she died. Lexi Branson was four years old. Clifford Clarke was 79 and Jade Lomas-Anderson was 14.
Each was killed by a dog in the past year, and each was a tragedy that shouldn’t have happened.
It’s difficult to pass comment on them because they’re either shockingly raw or going through the judicial process. Only one, that of Jade, has already been dealt with.
Beverley Concannon, the owner of four “hyper-aggressive” dogs that attacked Jade, admitted causing unnecessary suffering to the animals and was given a 16-week suspended sentence and told to pay £165 costs and victim surcharge.
The court heard her most aggressive dog, a bull mastiff, was kept 24 hours a day in a crate in which he could not raise his head properly.
Her other three dogs – another mastiff and two pit bulls – were confined to the house and never exercised despite there being a park just two minutes away.
Experts judged all the animals were in acute physical and mental distress.
And that’s the nubbin of all these horrifying dog attack stories – the way we treat our dogs.
There’s not a puppy ever been born that wants to kill. Not a one. Go and spend five minutes with one if you doubt me.
Puppies of any breed – including mastiffs, bull terriers, the ‘dangerous’ breeds – want love, food, and to know who’s boss. As with humans, if they don’t get those things they go bad.
They can also bite you far worse than you realise. A fully-grown medium sized dog has enough power in its jaws to splinter a beef bone in seconds.
Minor injuries are enough to kill babies and the elderly, but if they’re shallow flesh wounds they’re a warning, not a sign of murderous intent.
The very brightest dogs, border collies, are considered to have an intellect roughly equivalent to a three-year-old child.
If a three-year-old child lashed out at you, caused injury or even death, would you blame the child – or its parents?
And what would you think if you realised that child had been locked in a wire box so confining it could not lift its head, starved, beaten, never exercised, forced to fight for food with other children?
You’d probably say that a 16-week suspended sentence for the person responsible wasn’t enough, and that there should be some sort of official check on people who care for such creatures.
There are a thousand factors in a dog killing. It’s impossible for someone who didn’t know the animal to say what sparked it. But there are a few basic rules all of us – dog owners or otherwise – should bear in mind.
1. A dangerous dog has had a dangerous owner
Someone turned that puppy into a killer. That person is a risk to animals, humans, and society in general. Blame the person, not the dog.
2. Engage brain
If you were locked up for 12 hours at a time, crated, rarely exercised, fed junk, denied interaction and shouted at, you’d be a little fractious too. Some of us would be psychotic, so don’t be surprised when it happens to animals treated that way.
3. Every dog attack happens for a reason
Unlike humans, dogs don’t plan murder. They attack out of fear and when they feel under threat, and yes, they can feel threatened by a baby because dogs aren’t particularly bright. If a dog growls or snaps, ask yourself why.
4. Don’t EVER leave a dog alone in a room with a child
Doggy instinct is that pack dominance works on size and strength. Bigger people, with deep voices, are the boss and little people with squeaky voices need nipping to keep them in their place. That’s how babies get bitten, and if the dog feels he’s been usurped by a new arrival jealousy plays a part too (cats can fall asleep on their faces and suffocate them, FYI). You expect older siblings to be jealous of a baby and compensate for it – do the same for your dog.
5. Teach your children what to do
If you have an irrational fear of dogs, don’t pass it on. Encourage your children to interact with well-cared for dogs so they learn the difference between a play-bark and an aggressive one, when to run and when to stay still and quiet. You’re teaching the dog how to behave around children, too – not all have youngsters at home, and get confused by little screamy people.
6. Train and be trained
If you buy a dog off a bloke in a pub, or get it from a rescue centre, you still need to train it. Don’t presume someone else has taught it to sit and that’s that; you have to teach it who’s boss, to obey your commands, and how your household works. Go to dog training classes – they’re cheap and they’re everywhere.
At the same time a dog will train you how to look after it. It will teach you how long on its own is too long, what food it likes, how much exercise is enough to tire it out, and you need to arrange your life accordingly.
7. Know what you’re dealing with
Some dogs are bred for strength, others for guarding, retrieving, or in the case of my collie herding sheep. If I throw him a ball he thinks he’s supposed to look after it, not bring it back; the only way to get him to drop it is to throw another one. If you know what your dog’s strengths and weaknesses are – terriers down rabbit holes, Labradors in ponds – you and they will have an easier time of it. Don’t get one you can’t handle.
8. Neuter male dogs
You’re not hurting them, they won’t notice, and the earlier you do it the easier it will be. A male dog with all his hormones is aggressive, sexual, and liable to run off. Your life and theirs will be easier and calmer, and no-one but an official breeder needs access to dog sperm. Domestic pets do not need their testes.
9. Support compulsory microchipping
Dog licensing didn’t work, but microchipping would be a modern and more effective way of ensuring owners are responsible for their animals. If combined with mandatory training and neutering it would solve a lot of problems, and you don’t have to be rich – responsible rehoming charities do this already.
And that’s sort of it, because the problem of dog attacks usually turns out to be linked to human stupidity. Humans too stupid to treat a dog well, too stupid to imagine how they must feel, and too stupid to do anything but blame a dumb, stressed, abused animal when it does what comes naturally.
And then there is another dead child, another outcry, and nothing gets done about the basic cause of the problem – and that’s us stupid humans.