Today the UK headlines are dominated by the tragic story of a schoolgirl from Greater Manchester who was possibly mauled to death by four or five dogs in a private residence. I have only heard the story on BBC Radio 5 Live so far, and each time it is discussed the broadcasters are quick to reiterate that nothing is certain about the girl’s cause of death. For all we know it could have been something totally different. We are the outsiders, once again peering into another person’s life and making assumptions about what might have happened to them.
Personally I feel very sad for the poor dogs that were shot dead at the scene, as well as for the girl and her family. I am sure that if the dogs were involved in her death, they were acting on instinct or by their own sense of action. News reports suggest that the dogs never caused any concern in the local neighbourhood previously, and we don’t seem to be clear on where the owners were at the time, or why the girl was left alone in the house.
Naturally the debate has turned to the issue of dangerous dogs and what should be done about them. I am pleased to hear a majority of people are keen to promote responsible dog ownership, rather than blame the animals themselves. I think it is a flaw in the human character that we seem to expect animals to behave in the way that we would. We seem to forget that we are totally different species, and that all dogs have different thought processes that dictate their actions.
No doubt the issue will run for a few more days in the immediate aftermath of this tragedy. There seems to be no definitive answer to the problem. I am not sure there are sufficient levels of attacks to prompt the government into action in terms of legislating against irresponsible ownership or dangerous dogs. It seems that all we can do is try to encourage people to think very carefully before taking on the responsibility of owning dogs, large and small.
I have a rescue dog who is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross. He is the most loving, caring and even-tempered dog I have ever owned. He was house trained before he became a stray, and he is intelligent and resourceful. Yes, he has his faults, just like humans. The fact is that I and my husband are confident in our trusting relationship with him. We consider ourselves responsible dog owners, although I am sure there are people that would criticize from the outside.
Before our Staffie, I had a Yorkshire Terrier who was our family dog as a puppy. He was far more unpredictable and I wouldn’t have trusted him with children. I would consider him more dangerous than our Staffie, although of course the larger dog is capable of causing more serious physical damage to a person. So what can we do? Keep discussing the issue? Force a change born of knee-jerk reactions and public coercion? I don’t think there is a suitable answer to this issue. For now, we have to trust in dog owners and their pets on an individual basis.
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Unfortunately, this tragic incident is bound to stoke hate of some people against dogs and discussions whether certain races should be eliminated. In my experience, it is always the owner who is responsible for his/ her dog’s behavior in the sense of raising a dog that gets on with people reasonably well. And the second fact is that every parent should teach his/ her children how to behave around animals. It just makes sense. Like one would teach a child not to run against a moving car, he/ she should teach the kid how to behave around a dog. Dogs rarely if ever attack without a reason unless they have an irresponsible keeper who tortures them and promotes anti-social behaviors.
It’s not to blame anybody in this case as we simply do not know what happened but making sure that people know basics of how to behave around animals would help to prevent most cases of dog attacks.
Just a personal story: When I was a kid, our neighbors had a dog that was feared by many people (his owners including). He was thought unpredictable and some considered him evil. In fact, the dog had very bad life experiences from early age (our neighbors adopted him as an adult dog so they were not responsible for his earlier suffering) and a few places on his body that he didn’t allow anybody to touch. I can only assume one of those life experiences had to do something with strangling because he really hated being touched on his neck. Aran never once bit me and I was on friendly terms with him even if he bit other people. Not too hard and he was a small dog so the injuries weren’t big but the reason for his aggression was always that somebody just thought that stroking an unknown dog is a good idea or that pulling him out of his hideout was the way to make friends with him. All of his bites could have been easily avoided by a little bit of awareness and tolerance toward him.
That is exactly what I mean Ciaran. We need to teach our children to be cautious around dogs until we are certain of their temperament and behaviour. Our dog seems to have been mistreated at some point in the past, because when he came to us he was terrified of water, especially baths. We eventually managed to coax him to accept it and now he will happily swim in a lake, although he will only paddle in the local river if we go with him. He is also afraid of conflict, but sometimes he barks at other dogs which is his way of warning them to keep a distance. Again, people perceive it differently and we have to explain that he is not going to attack. Such a complicated issue really.
Yes, it is and I think that the basics about how to behave around dogs should be taught at schools as a part of the basic curricula. As it is quite an important skill.
And really, not every dog is friendly to strangers and shouldn’t even be expected to be so. I do have issues with parents who let their kid run up to a dog they do not know and are surprised if its owner tells them not to pat his/ her dog. It’s not a funny situation at all. As some dogs might have been rescued from really bad conditions and will never trust strangers again. The child has perfectly innocent intentions but the problem is that the dog doesn’t know it.