Tess Nichol is an NZME. News Service reporter.

Are pitbulls really a 'horrible' breed?

Alanna Gracie and Hazel the pitbull. Photo / Supplied
Alanna Gracie and Hazel the pitbull. Photo / Supplied

She sits, she stays, she's energetic, loving and very loyal: Hazel is without a doubt a good dog.

But she's also a pitbull, and some are calling for her breed to be banned in New Zealand following a spate of dog attacks, including one which left a little boy needing more than 100 facial stitches.

On Saturday, 7-year-old Darnell Minarapa-Brown was attacked by his uncle's 3-year-old pitbull, Caeser, in Takanini, South Auckland.

The injuries on Darnell, 7, also left him needing a metal plate inserted into his fractured nose and cheek. He may never regain movement in his upper lip.

Caeser has since been put down, with Auckland Council confirming this morning that the animal had been destroyed.

The incident prompted the New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons to call for education, licensing enforcement and even ban breeding of dogs deemed dangerous.

"Plastic surgeons are seeing these injuries around twice a week, the latest a major one in south Auckland," said association president Dr Sally Langley in a statement on Sunday.

"These children suffer pain and severe physical and psychological trauma. It is a very difficult time for their families. Many need multiple operations and suffer permanent and severe scarring."

According to two studies presented by New Zealand medical professionals last year, hospital admissions for people with dog-bite injuries average two a day.

Data also shows that over the last 10 years, more than a third of these were children, mostly with facial injuries and the number of cases per year continues to rise.

Auckland councillor for Manurewa-Papakura Calum Penrose and journalist Duncan Garner have also called for the banning of pitbulls specifically.

Mr Penrose said to RNZ on Sunday: "there's too many young ones across the country - and particularly in Auckland - that are getting mauled by these dogs."

On Monday Garner penned an opinion piece which ran on Radio Live's website, saying they were a "horrible" breed.

However Hazel's owner, Alanna Gracie of Cambridge, says banning pitbulls is an impractical solution and unfair to the breed, which she believes have a bad rap they don't deserve.

Cross breeding means it would be practically impossible to enforce such a breed ban, as purebred pitbulls are already banned in New Zealand.

"Where do they draw the line," she asked.

"They're just going off their opinion of what a pitbull is. What I think a pitbull looks like and what you think a pitbull looks like could be completely different."

In the past, dobermans, rottweilers and German shepherds had been singled out for banning, and now it was pitbull's turn, she said.

"Owners should be held responsible for dog attacks no matter what the breed."

It was concerning to Ms Gracie that a dog could attack someone, be put down and then its owners could by a new dog the very next day.

The solution was not to ban breeds but to restrict dog ownership, Ms Gracie said.

She suggested a council-issued owner's licence, like a driver's licence, where a potential owner would have to pass a theory test about dog behaviour and proper socialisation before they would be allowed to buy a dog.

Hazel is energetic, loving and acts like a mother to puppies Ms Gracie fosters.

In the three years Ms Gracie has owned her she has not behaved dangerously.

That doesn't stop people from being scared of her though.

"Most people are driven by fear [of pitbulls but] I think most of those people don't know what a pitbull is," Ms Gracie said.

"People will be patting Hazel and ask me what her breed is and when I say pitbull they leave."

- NZ Herald

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