Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Magic bullet? A lead one will do

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SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge says breeding strong, unpredictable and aggressive dogs will cause "problems". Photo / Thinkstock
SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge says breeding strong, unpredictable and aggressive dogs will cause "problems". Photo / Thinkstock

Ducking for cover after three vicious dog attacks on young children in quick succession, Local Government Minister Nick Smith offered the time-honoured kick for touch solution of "a fresh look at the laws". He told TV3, "I am damn sure there is no magic bullet ... no law is going to be able to prevent every attack."

Maybe not. But an ordinary bullet, and a minister with the testicular fortitude to stand up to the gangs and the powerful dog lobbies and rid this country of the suspect breeds - and their mongrel offspring - would be a good start. Why do dangerous dogs have more rights than innocent young kids - or you and me?

Listening to New Zealand Kennel Club president Owen Dance on Radio New Zealand this week, it was as though the kids were to blame - and their parents. Insisting he was sympathetic to the maimed children, he then said dog attacks were inevitable until parents had a better understanding of dog behaviour.

He said in nearly 40 years in the kennel club, he'd never heard of a member's child being bitten by one of their dogs.

"When your child is old enough to understand, you teach it. You teach it dog language and human language are very different. Actions that imply affection between humans, like cuddling, staring into the eyes, or putting your head alongside another head, are in fact very threatening behaviour for dogs and they will defend themselves."

Tell that to 15-month-old Ozyris Beeching who on Christmas Day, wandered next door with his new toy lawnmower and got monstered by a tethered pitbull with a history of running at pedestrians and posties. Tell that to the 3-year-old from Ashburton, now in Starship Hospital, whose throat was ripped to pieces last week by a doberman Staffordshire bull terrier cross, apparently craving for a piece of chocolate the toddler was eating.

Tell that to the 9-year-old girl from Rotorua with deep cuts to her head and arm this week, after being bitten by her neighbour's American bulldog while out walking the dog with its owner.

It's ironic that politicians fall over themselves to be leading the charge in locking up society's so-called "incorrigibles" and throwing away the key, but mewling pussies when it comes to the crime families of the doggie world.

The SPCA doesn't help. Over Christmas the Otago branch popped up in these pages seeking homes for nine, 5-week-old Staffordshire bullterrier or mastiff cross puppies found abandoned at Lake Dunstan. Both Auckland and New Plymouth SPCAs had Staffordshire cross pups for adoption.

American pitbull terriers were first allowed into the country in 1987 despite the opposition of the SPCA, and there are more than 7000 officially registered with local councils along with an unknown number of unregistered and part-breed pitbulls.

Auckland SPCA executive director Bob Kerridge is on record as saying pitbulls are top of the list of breeds "that are instinctively aggressive".

He said, "you breed a dog that's strong, aggressive, unpredictable - you're going to have problems."

The breed was created by British noblemen as a fighting machine for bull-baiting and dog-fighting.

The gangs fancy them because they intimidate the rest of us.

What possesses "ordinary folk" to play Russian roulette by having them around their families and neighbours, I have no idea.

In the torrent of abuse I'm lining myself up for by writing this column, I'll be told how loveable and docile their drooling potential killer is.

It's the same sort of talk we heard from that woman in Florida whose friend got ripped to pieces by her pet chimp, or from friends of the dead keeper who cuddled a lion once too often at the Northland animal park.

There are laws against keeping crocodiles and other killer animals as pets in the suburbs, but with dangerous dogs, despite the mayhem and misery they cause each year, the politicians fall over backward to give them the benefit of the doubt.

When they do strike, the law gives them all sorts of rights and second chances.


ACC statistics released to the Herald revealed 11,708 claims were made by dog-attack victims in 2011 - at a cost of $2.4 million.

Of those claims, 872 were for children under the age of five, 891 for 5-9-year-olds and 705 for 10-14-year-olds.


The number of attacks is much greater, however, with one estimate suggesting 75 per cent of victims of dog assaults are the owners, and thus unlikely to report the event.

In the furore that followed the 2003 attack on a 7-year-old girl in an Auckland park by a Staffordshire bull terrier cross, four breeds - American pitbull terrier, dogo argentino, Brazilian fila and Japanese tosa - were rapidly classified menacing dogs and their importation banned. However, those already in the country were left to breed and interbreed freely.

The added notoriety of being "banned" seems to have made them more attractive amongst some people.

As Dr Smith says, it might be impossible to stop every dog attack, but taking some pro-human, preemptive action, and removing the suspect breeds, would be a good start.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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