This week we went to the Galleria Dell’ Academia in Florence to see a statue of Dave by one of the Ninja Turtles. I can see why he named it after me, because some of the physical attributes are clearly modelled on mine (no, I was thinking of the feet). Anyway, go see it if you can – it’s brilliant.
But imagine my concern when, in the exhibition of music, I saw an 1685 oil painting of “Grand Prince Ferdinando with his musicians” in which you can clearly see a pit bull terrier type dog!
Grand Prince Ferdinando was evidently either a drug dealer or indulged in clandestine dog-fighting. His family and the general public must have been at great risk from his irresponsible dog-ownership. Thank goodness the UK 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act solved all that by prohibiting pit bull types.
What? It didn’t solve it? Surely seizing all these pit bull types and taking the owners to court must have done something to deter irresponsible dog ownership and make the country a safer place? But no, deaths and injuries from dogs continue unabated. Why does the law not help to make families and the public safer from pets?
The law as it stands is trying to address disparate issues with varying degrees of success, including those of dog welfare (fighting dogs), using dogs as weapons (so called “status” dogs) and the protection of humans (and other dogs) from dogs that pose a danger to them. Whilst at first sight these three may seem to be similar, they are in fact very different problems.
The first two are crimes that should be dealt with using the full might of the criminal law to prosecute the humans who perpetrate them – not by discriminating against the dogs, who remain innocent pawns manipulated by idiots. Ban pit pulls and they’ll use Akitas (for example) to fight and/or protect their stash. Banning types of dogs does not stop idiots using other types.
The last issue, dogs that pose a danger to people (and dogs), is one of education and engagement. Many of us know why dogs bite people and why deaths occur. We know the risk factors and how to avoid them – and they do not include that some “types” are inherently dangerous. It is not the dog that is dangerous; it is what you do with it.
Broadly speaking the risk factors are:
- poor breeding practices, including a lack of knowledge of breeding by some breeders
- poor “socialisation”, which is often linked to poor breeding
- newly acquired adult dogs that have passed through many previous homes
- a lack of understanding by the owners of how to treat and/or understand a dog
- vulnerable people are much more likely to be bitten, including children and babies, who because of the size disparity are much more likely to die from a dog attack than is an adult.
Every single risk factor can be mitigated against through educating the public:
- don’t buy from a “back street” breeder (or a “respectable” breeder who churns out pedigree dogs by the kennel-load)
- only adopt from a responsible rescue who have trained staff who assess their dogs
- learn how to socialise and educate your puppy/dog (not “train”, which is different)
- teach your children (and yourself) how to relate to dogs in general and your own dog in particular
- NEVER LEAVE ANY CHILD ALONE WITH ANY DOG – and the same applies to other vulnerable groups.
We are trying to educate where we can – there are some great programmes out there – but they seem only to preach to the converted (as I am sure I am here, too). We don’t seem to be getting to the target audience. So what can we do? Well, individually we can only try to continue to educate and to engage the right people but, if we had politicians with vision, we could really make some progress.
Where? In schools – all primary schools. It wouldn’t take much, and the programmes are mostly already written. We just need to get to our target audience with them – the potential victims. Half an hour a week of “Animal Studies” built into the national curriculum.
Forget the adults – you can’t tell an adult how to treat a dog because “everybody knows that” – but the children will learn. And it won’t even take a generation to cut deaths and injuries, because these same children will educate their parents. There’s nothing better than a five year old for showing their parents where they are going wrong.
And all the organisations and charities that all have their own educational resources, that are all currently not working? What could they do? Put aside their own differences for once and lobby for the political change required to save lives.
How do we stop dogs being “dangerous”? Through the education and engagement of children – now there’s a political solution I’d buy into.