New Zealand has laws to protect people from all manner of dangers.

Such is the scope of these restrictions that some believe we live in a nanny state with too much red tape.

Strange then that legislators appear to have placed a citizen's right to own a dog above public safety issues despite the high number of attacks reported each year.

Matapihi was the scene of such an attack this week when a pitbull inflicted facial injuries on a 3-year-old boy.


The child was visiting the Waikari Inlet Rd property with his family. Police say he was playing in a yard where the dog was secured on a chain. The boy was discharged from Tauranga Hospital yesterday and the dog has been impounded. Police are investigating but say it is too early to say if any charges will be laid.

As is often the case, the latest attack has sparked debate on the Bay of Plenty Times Facebook page about whether the dog, the owners or the parents were at fault.

No doubt those involved will be distraught and will be asking themselves the same questions.

The latest attack follows the horrific mauling of a 7-year-old in Murupara by four bull mastiff-type dogs, which reignited debate about whether certain breeds of dog should be banned.

The debate reached fever pitch more than a decade ago after an attack on another 7-year-old, Carolina Anderson, who was savaged in an Auckland park.

As a result of the uproar that followed, changes were made to dog control legislation. Microchipping was introduced and it became illegal to import American pitbulls, Dogo Argentino, Brazilian Fila and Japanese Tosa breeds. However, dogs within these breeds that were already in the country could be kept and bred and this, in my view, undermined its intent.

Calls now to ban dog breeds already in the country are pointless because of the cross-breeding that has occurred.

Besides, there is little sign the changes have had any impact.


Last year, we reported more than $100,000 in compensation was paid out in relation to a record number of dog attacks in Tauranga.

Figures released by ACC show a total of 387 injuries caused by dogs in the 2012/13 year, up from 372 the year before and 327 the year before that. Nationally, victim numbers jumped from 7638 claims in 2003 to 12,406 in 2013.

Tauranga dog trainer Susie Jones earlier this year told the Bay of Plenty Times dog attacks "are a reflection of the owners, not the dogs".

While it makes sense that if a dog is treated poorly it may be prone to attack, there are breeds that have more propensity to bite and inflict damage.

Following the Murupara attack, I questioned how the owners of the dogs felt about their choice of pet knowing the young victim faced years of reconstructive surgery.

I find myself asking the same question after the Matapihi attack.

The best we can hope for is that people who insist on telling us certain breeds of dog are safe will reassess the risk or benefit of keeping such a pet and will contemplate the worst-case scenario should it attack.

Politicians have so far shown little appetite for the inevitable backlash from protective dog owners that would likely follow any attempt to place further restrictions on ownership.

Following a spate of attacks on children in 2012, then Local Government Minister Nick Smith promised a review of dog control laws to see if more preventative measures could be taken. In August last year, his successor Chris Tremain said "legislation would not guarantee public safety" and he had no plans to reinstate the review.

In the wake of the Murupara attack, Local Government Minister Paula Bennett said she was considering whether dog control regulations needed to improve.

I hope she has the courage to follow through.