30 December 2007

Dangerous dogs

The tale of the 13 month old boy being mauled to death by his family's Rottweiler is a heartbreaking one.

Rottweilers. What a dreadful breed of dog.

I'm sure there are plenty of "pet" Rottweilers out there who've never harmed a fly. But the issue here is that they could. And I don't mean a fly either; but an innocent, helpless child like this boy in Wakefield whose life has been snuffed out in the most agonising, merciless manner by this uncontrolled, raging animal.

Why do people buy Rottweilers? Protection of themselves and property? Fine, a good reason, but there are better dogs for that; dogs who won't force friends and tradesmen to stay away from your home; dogs who won't make fellow dog owners afraid to let their weaker, more docile breeds off their leads; dogs who won't potentially rip to shreds a young loved one because he or she is too young and undaunted by a cute animal who initially seems playful.

There were Rottweilers on my estate a few years ago. One lived in a bungalow round the corner, and was called Carla. She used to bark menacingly through the fence at anyone who passed, and if they had a dog, the noise was extremely threatening. However, she had an owner who kept up tight security, put ample space between her and everyone who didn't know how to handle her, and walked her off-peak on a steel lead and with muzzle.

The other two lived on the cul-de-sac opposite. These dogs were too walked late at night on reinforced leads. However, the similarity ends there. They lived in the garden, barked and fought all day, and belonged to a man who had enough tattoos, meatheaded expressions and extreme viewpoints (from my one conversation with him) to suggest that he didn't need any canine protection from a chihuahua, never mind a Rottweiler, yet he had two of these beasts loose and not disciplined in his garden. He also had a flimsy fence.

Twice I recall their escape - and the first time it happened was when Paddy, my beautiful old sheltie-corgi cross, wandered out the front door for his walk with me closely following him. Paddy was old, slow and streetwise, so he was allowed to walk up the pavement alone as I turned to lock the door.

The key never came out of my pocket.

There was a vicious bark and I turned round to see a large Rottweiler heading my way, closely followed by the puppy version of the second, who eventually would grow up into another venomous beast. I quickly re-opened the door and shut myself in as the bigger animal bounded a yard or two away from me.

Then I remembered Paddy.

I looked out of the window and saw my daft old pooch sniffing this Rottweiler's nose. They then did that circular tail-chasing routine before going off on a random exploration of something on the road. Paddy's natural canine charisma had saved his bacon, but the fact remained that two Rottweilers had escaped from their garden through what I'd noticed a few days earlier to be a fence which was rapidly becoming flimsier. And I still had to get Paddy back into the house without becoming a Rottweiler's supper.

Ten minutes went by and eventually the two Rottweilers crossed to the other end of the street. I opened the front door, beckoned Paddy and managed to usher him in. So now we were both ok, albeit he'd had to sacrifice his walk, which was important for an arthritic dog who needed to keep his legs active.

It was raining quite hard by now, and a woman came walking round our corner. Due to her hood and brolly, I didn't recognise her immediately, but the Rottweilers went straight at her. One jumped up, but she amazingly just continued to walk, ignoring them until she got to her door; a destination which allowed me to recognise her as my Scouse neighbour Pauline.

I saw her in the pub the following Sunday. She told me she'd never been so frightened in her life.

The dogs were eventually rounded up and the fence repaired.

It wasn't enough.

A few weeks later, I was walking home from the pub with a friend and was about 100 yards and one corner from my house when we heard, distantly but vividly, this shriek of horror from a man. We sussed out the vague direction it was coming from and ran; he sounded like he was being mugged. However, before we got much further we heard the harshest type of dog bark - the one of a mutt on the attack.

The two of us were both dog owners and knew what was going on - the Rottweilers had escaped again. We ran back to my friend's house - he lived closest - and got sticks and a couple of leads. We knocked on the door of the man with the secured Rottweiler and asked him to get his reinforced lead and help us. He did.

As we approached a cut-through where the noise of both man and dog was getting closer, the tattooed man was coming towards us, though not at us. He said his dogs had escaped. We didn't reply, just pursued the search. Eventually we found no dogs, but did find the victims - three of them. Three grown men had been overpowered by these two Rottweilers (the second one had by now grown rapidly into a strong, vicious, foaming-at-the-mouth adult) and had ripped their own clothes to escape the grip and get away. They'd returned with cricket bats and golf clubs and were hell bent on finding these animals and killing them. When they saw us, with leads and sticks, they came at us initially in the belief we were the owners, such was their anger and fright. We convinced them just in time. Then the search resumed - we didn't tell them we had seen the real owner go in another direction a few seconds earlier.

There was no sign of the dogs for the next half hour, and the barking stopped, so presumably the owner had got there first. Not long after, the dogs had gone - the barking from the garden had stopped when I walked Paddy past. The man himself also moved out of his house.

I can honestly say that Rottweilers absolutely petrify me. The ones brought up properly are fine by day, but they still have the potential to turn in situations where they misunderstand the threat and use their natural instinct to fight to the death. These two dogs attacked people in the village because an irresponsible owner had not secured them properly; this makes it unfair on the dogs, as for the most part it is bad ownership and slipshod habits which puts the public in danger of attack and the dogs, ultimately, in danger of destruction. While Rottweilers can be effective guard dogs without having a pop at the wrong person - Carla, who recently died of natural causes, was an example, though she still menaced us through her fence and would have had a pop if necessary - ultimately they are programmed to attack first and foremost. They are not worth the hassle, nor the risk.

I feel so much for the family of the baby boy in Wakefield, but I don't blame the dog. I blame the irresponsible idiot who thought a helpless baby and an animal easily capable of a ruthless killing were somehow compatible. I hope the book is thrown at them.

Rottweilers are a worthy breed; they show well, they look good and if put in the right environment by the right people, there is every chance that they will become adequate, life-enhancing dogs. But there will always be that risk element. The Government should make it a criminal offence to leave children under 16 with dogs classified under that 1991 Act as 'dangerous'.

And do you remember that Act? Kenneth Baker brought it in after a Rottweiler got little Ruksana Khan in Bradford and ripped her whole face away. A whole 16 years later and still such dogs are attacking tiny children because the owners aren't being monitored enough. That's a disgrace.


Sylvieliz said...

Rottweilers are not classed as dangerous dogs under the act.
All dogs especially the larger guarding breeds can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
That is the crux of the matter.
The owners should be punished for allowing this to happen. Until this is done these attacks will continue. If you ban the breed which as usual is suggested there are dozens of other breeds who could be potentially dangerous.
Do not leave a young child and a baby in this position where they can be attacked.
I have kept these dogs all my life and GSD, another breed often castigated for the stupidity of the owners. My dogs have never bitten or terrorised anyone and will never be allowed to do so.
Not that they would they are as soft as a boiled turnip.
This tragic accident was caused by the stupidity of the adults but as usual the poor dog and the poor little baby paid with their lives.
More children are killed by their own parents than by dogs.
Something to ponder on.
And no a license will not prevent the dogs from biting and would be impossible to enforce.
The lawless won't pay the rest of the responsible owners would just take the brunt of it.
My thought go out to the poor children who witnessed this terrible thing, also of course to the poor baby and the dog who lost their lives owing to human error.

Sylvie Powell

Matthew Rudd said...

You're right, of course - Rottweilers had come to the fore with numerous attacks but the Government only acted when pitbulls became part of the problem. There then followed loads of photos of bandogs, who really were awful to look at, as well as the one, solitary Japanese tosa which the UK had. That was daft - put the tosa on the banned list, even though the breed barely existed in the UK, but leave off Rottweilers, which are everywhere and vicious.