Earlier this week, there was a social media storm when a Meath county councillor said that he was amazed that people kept restricted breeds of dogs as family pets. His comments attracted the wrath of thousands of dog owners like Barbara, who adore their dogs. As far as Barbara is concerned, the comments have highlighted a serious injustice: she cannot understand why her gentle, good-natured dog should be on a list of dog breeds that have to endure stipulations that do not apply to other dogs.
The background to this situation is the The Control of Dogs Regulations, which were brought into law nearly twenty years ago, in 1998, in the wake of a media storm following some cases in the UK where children had been attacked by dogs. Irish legislators chose to identify eleven breeds of dog, including German Shepherds, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Dobermans and others, and to impose strict conditions on them when in public areas. These breeds, or crosses of the breeds, are meant to be securely muzzled at all times, and they’re meant to be on a strong, short leash, held by a person over the age of 16 years.
It’s easy to understand why the law was brought in: most of the listed breeds are large, strong animals who can inflict serious injuries if they become aggressive and out of control. However it’s now widely believed that the law is outdated and ineffective. Around the world, this type of “breed specific” legislation has begun to be reformed, and instead replaced by laws that restrict the activities of specific animals that have a known track record of causing problems.
The problem is that any dog, regardless of breed, can become aggressive and dangerous. Legislation should be based on evidence and scientific data, not as knee jerk reactions to a media flurry of sensationalism.
The truth is that many of the dogs on the restricted breed list, like Rocky, have never caused any problems to anyone. Barbara’s young nieces often play with Rocky (obviously, under adult supervision, as should happen whenever any child spends time with any dog).
Barbara took Rocky on as an adult rescue dog when he was seven years old. He’d been surrendered to the dog pound because his original family no longer wanted him. He’s a good example of how dogs of all types can make excellent family pets if they are given the right opportunity.
If you look at the data about dog bites in Ireland, most of them are carried out by the breeds that are the most popular i.e. Collies and Terriers. Most bites happen when a human voluntarily interacts with a dog (e.g. petting the dog while it’s eating). Only 2% of bite incidents take place randomly, without the human doing anything connected with the dog.
The way to prevent dog bites is not by trying to restrict the activities of wide sections of the Irish dog population. Instead, what’s needed is education. If we all learned more about dogs, people would be far less likely to be bitten.