“There’s no such thing as a bad dog, just a bad owner.” said author John Grogan in his bestseller Marley & Me: Love and Life with the World’s Worst Dog. Or, as well-known and highly regarded dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse more accurately put it, “There is no such thing as a difficult dog, only an inexperienced owner.”
Whether you are a dog owner or not, it is difficult to overlook what has already been a soaring debate for many years. With recent changes to sentences for owners of dogs responsible for attacks, the issue is once again at the forefront of the news.
Last Friday, as I was walking down a fairly quiet side street near Oxford Circus, I spotted a group of people sat in front of a building. Nothing unusual, until I noticed the (loose) Pit bull terrier that seemingly accompanied them. Although I’m neither suffering from Cynophobia (the scientific term for the fear of dogs) nor prejudiced against the breed (two of my friends own Pit bull terriers adopted from Battersea Dog &Cat home and the dogs, which are extremely well cared for, are arguably the most gentle ones I have ever met), I will shamelessly say that I hesitated a fair moment before walking past them. It could have been the fact that the dog was unleashed, or the fact that the owners in question were not paying attention to it, or simply a manifestation of the growing fear generated by the rise in dog attack cases in the recent years. Truth be told, I would be surprised if most of you had not experienced a similar situation at some point in their life.
As I was about to walk past them, a couple walking their Doberman – this one on a leash – took the same path, resulting in a short confrontation between the two dogs. Although none of the dogs were actually hurt, it shocked me that, whilst all this was happening, none of the group of people raised a finger to ensure theirs or the couple’s dog was safe. It also dawned on me that if the other dog had not been kept on a leash and quickly walked away by its owners, the outcome may have well been far more gruesome.
In the past year however, we have witnessed more and more instances where either people or pets have paid too high a price as a result. Recent cases (such as that of 14 year-old Jade Anderson from Wigan, who sadly passed away last year after being attacked by four dogs, or the latest example of Meg, an 11-year-old Border Collie mauled by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier near Cheltenham just a week ago) have once more put the issue in the spotlight, both saddening and angering the masses and generating thousands of calls for more drastic changes in the laws regulating ownership and sentences for owners of dangerous breeds.
It seems those calls have now been answered, as shown through recent changes made to the Dangerous Dog Act, with extended prison sentences for owners who allow their dogs to perpetrate attacks. The changes are far from being small ones as well, with owners facing prison sentences of up to 14 years, in comparison to the possible 2 years previously in place.
Those changes have been welcomed by both the local politics and communities, especially when considering how many dogs have sadly been put down as a result of such attacks in the past years (181 dogs for 2013 alone).
Is longer prison sentences the only solution when it comes to dog attacks? Although many people arguably feel that those longer sentences are necessary in terms of preventing re-offending, it could also be argued that prevention all-together might be the way forward.
There is no doubt that some owners, not unlike the ones I mentioned above, have little interest for their pet and are guilty of owning a “status dog” for the sake of it, often with dramatic consequences. It is also possible that some breeds of dogs need more regulation than others, if only because of a potential risk due to their nature or ability to cause serious damage to other people or pets. But is banning a whole breed and sending bad owners to prison a definite solution? What about owners who simply are not educated enough (by lack of resources more than lack of interest) about the breeds themselves or how to best take care of them? Should they be classified in the same “bad owners” bracket as the others? What about the rise of unauthorised dangerous breed’s puppy sales and dog fighting clubs? Should there be more focus on preventing those from happening rather than having to take drastic measures when a problem has already occurred?
The question of who is responsible – the dog, the owner or the lack of measures in place by the authorities – and what solutions can be offered to avoid heart-breaking cases, such as the ones we have witnessed recently, to occur again is, without a doubt, going to continue to fuel more debates in the months to come.
What do you think should be done to change the situation? We want to hear your opinion on the subject.