Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Remove curse of these hell hounds

Biting and maiming cases are becoming an epidemic, but politicians are too scared of dog owners to ban killer breeds.

Years of "looking" and doing next to nothing by politicians led to last Friday's brutal killing of Chloe Mathewson, says Rudman. Photo / Supplied
Years of "looking" and doing next to nothing by politicians led to last Friday's brutal killing of Chloe Mathewson, says Rudman. Photo / Supplied

How many more people have to be killed or maimed by vicious dogs before our parliamentarians and police start to take the problem seriously? Just over a year ago, after three serious attacks on young children in quick succession, then-Local Government Minister Nick Smith offered "a fresh look at the laws". And that, it appears, was the extent of the Government's action plan.

Years of "looking" and doing next to nothing by politicians led to last Friday's brutal killing of Chloe Mathewson by two of a pack of three large unneutered rottweilers.

It was not as though these particular killer dogs were unknown to the authorities. Two months before, according to neighbours of the North Shore property where the attack occurred, the place was raided by police on drug related matters. The signs outside the property warned of "guard dogs". That was chance number one for the authorities to remove these menacing creatures.

As neighbour Brian Copland spelt out in a weekend report: "If you went close to the gate they would come leaping up like the hounds of the Baskervilles."

Auckland Council animal control staff were aware of the dogs, too. They'd been seized before for worrying stock, but in the council expert's judgment "were not particularly human aggressive". The question is, why did they receive a reprieve after the stock "worrying"?

The official did admit after Ms Mathewson's killing that it was "unwise having three large breed unneutered males on one property".

The dogs were destroyed "within hours" of the fatal attack. But that was too late for Ms Mathewson.

My question to Dr Smith and his Government colleagues is, why did they not do anything to protect our community from these killing and maiming machines when they had the chance after their "fresh look" at the laws last year?

And why didn't the police and the Auckland Council err in favour of humans rather than dogs when they dealt with the beasts in the weeks before the fatal attack?

Any day now - possibly it's already started - the dog lobby is going to start blaming the victim. Reports indicate she stayed overnight at the house where the attack took place, and was dancing in the yard when she was set upon. Her gyrations, we're told, stirred the dogs into a killing frenzy.

In a sane society, such breeds wouldn't be allowed outside a zoo. You can't keep a lion or snake or any of the other potential human killers of the animal world in a suburban backyard as a pet, or guard animal, so why a bred-to-fight dog?

Whatever the dog lobby says, the blame doesn't rest with the victim, however unwise and foolhardy her trust in these animals was. It lies with the owners, and the politicians, too scared of the dog-lovers to ban these genetically wired killers.

Mercifully, deaths by dog attack are rare. Last weekend's was one of four over the past decade. But biting and maimings are of epidemic proportions. In 2011, the Accident Compensation Corporation received nearly 12,000 dog bite claims, including 872 for children under 5. In 2010, 560 people were hospitalised, 137 of them children under 10.

The Animal Control Institute estimates the true incidence of dog attacks could be 20,000 a year, many covered up by families worried their pet could be put down if reported.

A decade ago, following the attack of a 7-year-old girl in an Auckland park by a Staffordshire bull terrier cross, the importation of four breeds - American pitbull terrier, dogo argentino, Brazilian fila and Japanese tosa - was banned. But those already here were left to breed and interbreed freely.

According to recent animal control figures, American pit bulls are responsible for 18.9 per cent of attacks, despite making up less than 2 per cent of the national database. Other breeds over-represented on the animal control officers' dangerous list included staffordshire bull terriers, bull terriers, alsatians, rottweilers, Australian cattle dogs and neapolitan mastiffs. These seven breeds were responsible for 50 per cent of dog attacks reported to councils.

A politician who was serious about taking a "fresh look" would surely see the chance to halve the number of people being maimed by dogs as a step worth taking. There are plans afoot to eliminate any building that seems likely to fall down and maim or kill people in an earthquake.

So why not the same with dogs? Ban the import of the suspect breeds. Neuter and spay those remaining. Muzzle or put down those that show anti-human tendencies. They are only dogs after all.

Debate on this article is now closed,

- NZ Herald

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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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