In the 1980s I made a survey of Trading Post advertisements selling dangerous breeds before Trading Post became cautious about such advertisements. While there were 101 advertisements for primarily pet, show, racing or working dogs, there were 158 ads selling larger guard and hunting dogs – the sort that can scare or menace the young and the old – even if foxies may be quicker on the nip. Some cross-breeds sounded doubly or triply dangerous, for example, “Sire Staffordshire Bull x heeler, bred for pig dogs” and the possibly ultimate combination, “American pit bull terrier cross bull terrier cross boxer bull mastiff”. Most of the advertising owners and breeders lived in Melbourne’s rural fringes and north-east and north-west outer suburbs, where life and people are perhaps correctly seen to be tougher.
Some of the fiercest dogs advertised in Trading Post are probably kept safely as guard dogs sitting in vans or within fenced properties. But quite often the ads in newspapers as well as in Trading Post, emphasised the eagerness of the dogs to ‘have a go’ at pigs and goats, and what great hunters of pigs and goats they will be, that one wondered what may happen to anything else alive when they go hunting. Or do they all go hunting? An Agriculture Departmental report on pit bull terriers in 1987 raised the public question of bull terriers used in pit bull fights, to explain why such ferocity is prized. And abandonment of unwanted pets who are feral and dangerous is already a problem in some hill and semi-rural areas.
The Royal Children’s Hospital alone treated more than eighty children in one year (1987) for serious bites from dogs. Numberless other bites would have been treated elsewhere, and most attacks are not even reported.
Dog-lovers often insist on Victim-Onus – saying that dogs attack because children or adults provoke or show fear. This is not fair to all the children, adults or small dogs who may be attacked simply because others have provoked the irritable dogs in the past, or those who cannot reasonably be expected not to show fear of a menacing animal.
Terror is inflicted on many children and older people by vicious owners who laugh when their dogs frighten people.
The pitbull terrier that killed our harmless little dog in a park was on a lead, but the foul-mouthed owner could not restrain it. Two earlier attacks requiring costly veterinary attention and bills were by unleashed dogs. All these dogs are still free until they savage people. Pitbull terriers have burst off muzzles as they rush to kill, too strong for their owners.
• Dogs bred to attack should be labelled and treated as dangerous dogs whether or not they have attacked anyone before. If people who say their attack-dog is perfectly safe and gentle wanted a perfectly safe and gentle dog they should not choose an attack-dog. These are harder to train to be safe. They can choose dogs bred to be lapdogs, retrievers, water=dogs . . Guard dogs are bred to guard, not to attack. Many types of dogs should not be kept confined in urban areas at all.
• There should be some places specifically labelled as places where dogs can run free for exercise, since it is cruel for dogs not to have plenty of exercise.
• Free therapy for people with psychological needs to have dogs that terrorise others.
• Owners of attack-dogs and their cross-breeds pay double licence fees to discourage irresponsible people. Irresponsible abandonment of unwanted pets who become feral is already a danger in some hill and semi-rural areas.
• Licences refused, until owners demonstrated that such a dog will not lunge at weaker creatures, and will respond immediately to the command ‘Let Go’. Pitbull terriers can’t let go even when their owners swear at them and hit them.
• Licenses required for owners, once any dog of theirs has a vicious record.
• Better ‘dog-owner’ training, including DIY videos available in libraries and secondary schools, so that bad owners will not turn dogs of any breed vicious.
• RSPCA or local papers as places for reporting all unprovoked dog attacks in public places. This would show how much sorrow and fear is caused by savage, badly trained animals, while usually the owners cannot be traced to pay medical costs. Add in figures for psychological trauma and fear from being snarled at, knocked over and nipped. Long-term fear, and even disablement and disfigurement can be greater than many other types of psychological trauma cases that are awarded damages of thousands of dollars.
• Even the nicest people may like owning a threatening animal that makes visitors cower while they laugh, “It’s quite all right. His teeth don’t meet.” Watch people encouraging puppies to snap. Ideally, our whole society could change, to enjoy peaceful pursuits, civilised entertainment, safe homes not needing guarding, and ideals of masculinity that called for courage not cruelty – so that nobody would want to have rottweilers, pitbulls or terrifying cross-breeds.
Valerie Yule, 57 Waimarie Drive, Mount Waverley, Vic.3149. Tel (3) 9807-4315