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Monday, 1 July, 2002, 08:01 GMT 09:01 UK
Man's best friend or dangerous dog?
Pit bull terrier
Pit bull terriers are banned in the UK

Last month ten-year-old Nicki Hughes lay on an operating table for two hours having her face stitched together and a lump of flesh the size of a tennis ball cut from her arm which had been infected by bacteria from a dog's mouth.

Nicki and her friend had been playing on a village green near their homes when two dogs owned by a neighbour escaped from behind a high fence.

One of the dogs made straight for the girls. It bit and tore at Nicki until her friend's kicking made it stop. Her face and arm had been horribly bitten.

It was the second savage dog attack in as many weeks in a small area of Wolverhampton.

Mauled


'Doggy' is probably high up there in the first ten words spoken. So why are they suddenly and unpredictably turning on children like prey?

Alice Beer
Leah Preston is just five years old. She has had five major operations since an attack four weeks ago which nearly killed her.

Leah was mauled by two dogs which had escaped from steel cages in a neighbour's garden.

I read about these attacks when they happened and of course was shocked.

But they are not uncommon. In a few weeks there may be another name, another cute photo and another description of a dog's savage attack on a child.

We know that cars and sharp things can be dangerous to children but we are brought up to believe that dog and man are friends.

Dogs eat in our kitchens, sit at our feet and often sleep on the end of our beds.

'Doggy' is probably high up there in the first ten words spoken. So why are they suddenly and unpredictably turning on children like prey?

Law 'unenforceable'
Scene of dog attack on Volkan Kaya
Volkan Kaya, 5, was killed by two fighting dogs

Last year 3,400 people were hospitalised after dog attacks - a 25 % rise over the last five years.

The number of attacks is increasing simply because more people are keeping dangerous breeds.

The Dangerous Dogs Act was introduced in Britain in 1991 following a spate of attacks.

It was, supposedly, introduced to ban the breeding and sale of the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa, or any other type of dog bred for fighting. But it is not working.

Dealers know that to enforce it, police have to genetically test dogs to prove that they are banned and dangerous breeds.

Legislation

Testing, however, is largely unsuccessful on cross breeds and too inconclusive and expensive for the police to seriously pursue.

When Nicki Hughes' parents saw what the dog had done to their child, they decided to campaign for dog owners to be regulated and licensed. It is one option but I don't think it is foolproof.

Radical legislation is needed but maybe we are waiting for the death of a child.

In Hamburg when five-year-old Volkan Kaya was bitten to death in the school playground in front of his friends the authorities acted quickly.

Legislation classified certain breeds as dangerous. These dogs had to be licensed and wear muzzles at all times.

Taunting

The police were given the authority to round up any dog that looked as though it could be dangerous and take it to the dog home.

Of course the animal protesters went mad. It was "an animal holocaust". However, the legislation made sense.

If you can prove your dog is safe through a series of tests, you can keep it.

In the Hamburg equivalent of Battersea Dogs Home, I spent the morning taunting potentially dangerous dogs with sudden movements, sticks and prams containing a wailing tape recorder and urine soaked nappy.

Attacks reduced

If the dog passes the test - reacting calmly or defensively - it is returned to its owners or re-housed.

If it attacks or reacts violently, it will get one more chance to be retrained and retested. If it fails again it is destroyed.

In the two years since the legislation was introduced in Hamburg, the number of attacks by dogs in the city has been dramatically reduced.

I do not believe Britain will ever be brave enough to introduce such a law.

How cruel is it? Certainly not as cruel as the parents of five year old Volkan having to hear in an autopsy that parts of their son were found in the stomach of the dog that killed him.

Alice Beer's report for 4 x 4 Reports was shown on BBC2 on Monday, July 1

4x4 Reports: Deadly dogs


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See also:

24 May 02 | England
21 May 02 | England
20 May 02 | England
12 Apr 02 | Scotland
02 Jun 00 | Europe
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