If local Government Minister Rodney Hide needed more evidence that his approach to a review of dog control laws is wrongheaded, this week provided him with some.

On a single day, a 3-year-old girl nearly lost her eye after she was set upon by a pitbull in the garden of a family friend's property in Wairoa and a 5-year-old girl from Taneatua, near Whakatane, was mauled by two Staffordshire crosses and needed 10 hours of surgery to repair cuts to most of her body.

The state in which the dogs left those two youngsters should be all the wake-up call Hide needs to realise that shaking up what he calls an "onerous muddle" of legislation and protecting people from disfiguring injury and death are two separate matters.

They may overlap but addressing one will not take care of the other.

Hide is nothing if not true to the Act Party's libertarian principles when he signals a preference for "freedom rather than restriction".

"I am not sure that people with an irrational fear, however real, of dogs have a right to require the physical restraint of all dogs in public places," he said when announcing the review last October.

Setting aside the question of how a fear can be irrational and real at the same time, it is worth pointing out the size of the margin by which Hide misses the point.

It is not that "people" want dogs to be leashed; it is that they don't want to be bitten by dogs. And leashed dogs do a lot less biting of strangers than unleashed ones.

Those who favour freedom over restriction are fond of arguing that their little Tootsie would never hurt anyone. People who don't own, or much like, dogs love this one.

They wish they had a dollar for every time they heard a dog owner say "She's never done that before!" or, more explicitly, "You must have startled him", as if the biting were the human's fault.

The fact is that the severity of a dog attack is rather in the eye of the person attacked.

Nobody can sensibly argue that a nip on the ankle from a bichon frise is as bad as a sustained facial mauling from a pitbull, but it is not necessarily a trivial matter: a frail elderly person or a toddler or somebody with a medical condition may find such a nip - and any consequent misadventure, such as a fall - very traumatic.

The question is not whether the dog owner thinks the dog is dangerous; the question is whether people are entitled to go about their business without being molested by others' animals.

The 4WD behemoth and the 1200cc runabout are subject to the same speed limits, though the former would do much more damage than the latter in a crash.

Equally, leashing laws apply to all dogs; the ones that "wouldn't hurt a fly" are not exempt.

All that said, the events of the past week underline the necessity for the Government to address the threat posed by pitbull crosses and related breeds. Both recent attacks were the work of such animals, which are disproportionately implicated in severe attacks.

It is all very well to claim, as Hide's spokesman did this week, that the solution lies in the education of owners, or to promise a "first principles" review of legislation that will result in better enforcement of control regimes.

Any dog control officer will tell you that owners of pitbulls are disproportionately to be found in the less affluent parts of town: they are less likely than average to register or train their animals or to adequately control them and much less likely than average to pay fines and pound fees if their dogs are impounded. Training people to be better owners is a laudable long-term aim, but in the meantime the dogs are still biting.

We already have bans in place on four breeds - the American pitbull terrier, dogo argentino, Brazilian fila, and Japanese tosa.

Getting rid of pitbulls will not be easy; it will take a breeding generation. But an immediate requirement that they be muzzled in public - on pain of destruction - is the least Hide could do.

Or perhaps he would rather explain to the next hideously disfigured child why freedom is more important than restriction.