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Saturday, 23 April 2011

All hail the 'Dogbo'

Should teenagers be allowed to go around jumping at people and threatening them without consequences? Do you think people should be allowed to walk around with a loaded gun that could go off at any time, and they would likely be unable to stop it shooting should it do so?

The answer to these two questions seem obvious. Yet dogs are allowed off their leash in public areas, free to run at small kids, jump up at them, threaten to bite people, and in the case of certain breeds of dog, be put in a position where they could literally kill certainly young children with their owners seeming to not care about any consequences. Why is this allowed?

I have no problem with dogs per se. I realise they provide companionship to many, and I don't even have a problem with the concept of someone owning a guard dog if they genuinely feel they need it to protect their property. But that's where a dog like that should stay, in that property - and if taken for a walk..on a leash, with a muzzle on.

Because whatever their owners say, many dogs have a natural tendency to be aggressive, fight and possibly kill. Some dogs are bred to do so, and yet somehow end up being owned by 14 year old boys who walk around with them off the leash in parks where there are little kids. Or owned by people who are then surprised when they maul their kids to death.

Some are literally used as weapons - such as the pitbull who was deliberately set on a rival gang member, which became the subject of a court case a little while ago. That's the point though. They ARE weapons, and they seem to be allowed on the streets and in parks and their owners feel it is a RIGHT of theirs to have them and let them walk free.

I'm not just focussing on pitbulls either, there are Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Bull Mastiffs, Rotweillers, Doberman dogs, the list is far longer than you think.

The other weekend I was in Osterley Park with my kids - both under 3. They were kicking a plastic football around when a massive Doberman came bounding up, baring its teeth viciously, took the ball and burst it. The owner then took over a minute to get the dog under his control. The owner was apologetic, and offered to pay for the ball - but I asked him why he let a dog like that off its leash with little children around and his answer? That it was a public park and a free country so he was within his rights to do so. I don't blame him for this, what he was doing was within the law. But that dog could have killed my children, and the man showed that should the dog have chosen to attack them he didn't have the physical strength to stop it, and so it should either be kept under control on a leash or taken somewhere where innocent members of the public are not around.

How many of you reading this have been out in  park, or on a jog, or just walking down a road, when a dog runs up to you, barking viciously, and then jumps up at you - only to have the owner do very little about it apart from tell you that "don't worry, he's only being friendly" or "he won't harm you" or, when the bite comes "I'm sorry, he's never done that before". No, but now he has, and that shouldn't be allowed.

When you actually say something to the owner they recoil in horror that you have got the cheek to question their right to have their dog off its lead in public. "It's a public area mate" they'll say, or, the case of many pit bull owners, something using more aggressive language, but all on the same lines of it being a public area and that they were perfectly within their rights.

Well I and my children have a right to walk around unmolested and unthreatened by anyone, man or beast, and that, I argue, is more important that your "rights".

So what's the solution? The government has come up with a "dogbo" which puts restrictions on the owners of 'problem dogs'. This was in response to the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, which was a poorly drafted and implemented piece of legislation. This Act banned the ownership of certain breeds but also put sanctions on dogs of whatever breed that went 'out of control' in public areas.

The important thing to note however, is that it's not the dog's fault. It's about the responsibility of the owners. As far as I'm concerned, a dog attacking me is an assault by it's owner.  There needs to be complete responsibility for the owners. There also needs to be a way for these dogs to be taken for a walk off their leash without it affecting the innocent public. Specific areas to do so? Perhaps, but what is certain is that what is going on now isn't enough.

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