It's about time the Government introduced legislation to attempt to mitigate the damage done by dangerous, feral mongrels - and the dogs they own.

The number of dog-bite patients discharged from hospitals around the country has increased 58 per cent over the past 10 years - physicians put the number of admissions at two a day.

Those with the most severe injuries - generally children - face years of painful operations often well into their adult years, and the cost to the taxpayers of this intricate, time-consuming micro-facial surgery is enormous.

And yet every time there's a discussion about controlling dangerous dogs, there's a howl of protest from (mostly well-meaning) dog lovers.


"It's not the dog, it's the owner" is the most common refrain - like the pro-gun lobby's "Guns don't kill people, people kill people".

There's the "All dogs can bite" argument - which is undoubtedly true. And inevitably, there are stories of people who have pit bulls who wouldn't hurt a fly and who have children who crawl all over the big fella and they can trust him with their lives. Until one day the big fella has a bad day and tears the face off a child.

Louise Upston, the Associate Minister for Local Government, announced a raft of new rules this week, designed to better protect the public from dangerous dogs.

They will come into effect in February next year and, for the most part, they seem reasonable. They focus around "high-risk" dogs - and the definition of a high-risk dog doesn't just mean a dog on the banned breeds list.

Certainly, dogs can be put on the hit list if a council believes the animal will pose a threat to public safety because of its breed.

A number of dog breeds cannot be imported into the country and they include the american pit bull terrier. Sweet, I hear dog owners say.

My girl is a pitty-cross. Well, the new legislation allows for a council to decide a dog is more pit bull than labby if, by its actions, it is deemed to be menacing. Apart from being one of the dangerous breeds, a dog is considered "high-risk" after the owner has been convicted of an offence where the dog has rushed at a person or property causing injury or damage, or a council believes the dog is a threat to public safety.

And that's where the fairness aspect comes in. If you have a really grumpy labrador or a curmudgeonly collie who snarls and rushes and bites anyone it takes a snitch against, that dog, too, can be considered menacing, and be subject to the same rules as other high-risk dogs.

Owners of dogs deemed high-risk have to have their pet neutered; they will be required to put signs up on their property warning that there is a canine bomb ready to go off in the back yard; their dogs will have to be kept in a fenced area allowing visitors at least one safe entrance to the house and all menacing dogs will have to wear collars identifying them as high-risk and to be approached with caution, if at all. It's a start.

But really, public safety will only improve if there is compliance on the part of dog owners and enforcement on the part of the councils.

Now that dog control has moved from a service for ratepayers to a money-earner for councils, there's far more policing of little old ladies who have let their fluffy handbag dogs off the leash at the local park than there is of the dangerous dogs prowling the mean streets.

Yes, all dogs can have bad days and react the only way they know how. But ask yourself whether you'd rather have a cocker spaniel coming at you or a pitbull cross.

It's obvious there are plenty of people who don't give a stuff about their fellow humans. But hopefully they care enough about their dogs to keep them safe from the new regulations.

Kerre McIvor is on NewstalkZB, Monday to Friday, noon-4pm