side to man's best friend
IT HAS some time since there was a serious TV documentary into the emotive subject of 'dangerous dogs'. Despite its rather lurid title, 'Deadly Dogs', made by Granada TV and screened last Sunday on Channel 5 was, on the whole, an intelligent and varied look at the cause of dog attacks and an examination of various dog laws around the world.
OUR DOGS was instrumental in providing the programme makers with much of the information about the UK's own Dangerous Dogs Act and the more recent German 'Fighting Dog' legislation, both of which featured heavily in the broadcast programme.
The opening narrative, over scenes of dogs playing and walking happily with their owners and children said: "Dogs have stolen our hearts and homes... We live cheek by jowl with seven million of them, But what happens when they turn on us?"
The first case study in a dog attack was that of four year-old Ruth Fowler who was attacked in her back garden by 'Blue', her uncle's Neapolitan Mastiff. Her uncle had bought the dog instead of a puppy because he felt sorry for it. Although Blue had proved to be a loving family pet, displaying no aggression, he still 'turned' one day, probably mistaking Ruth's plaited ponytail for his tug-rope.
The little girl's head was held in the dog's jaws, its teeth tearing strips of flesh from her scalp and puncturing the bone so as to expose the lining of the brain. Ruth's mother managed to free her daughter from the dog's jaws and rush her to hospital, where she was saved thanks to the skill of medical staff. Blue was immediately put to sleep.
Ruth has undergone plastic surgery since then and, although her physical scars have healed, the mental scars, including frequent nightmares, remain. "Blue was lovely," says Ruth's mother. "But nowadays, if anyone says to me their dog won't bite or turn, I just don't believe it."
There followed an explanation of how, following a spate of dog attacks in the late 1980s, the Conservative Government introduced the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991, largely directed towards Pit Bull Terriers. Although the programme did not mention the seizure of innocent family pets which merely resembled Pit Bulls, it pointed out that the DDA had not worked because it was Breed-Specific.
Chris Laurence of the RSPCA said "The reason the Act does not work is because it is breed specific. You cannot say that all Pit Bulls are nasty and all Golden Retrievers are nice. It just isn't so."
Next up was Terry Singh, Dog Warden Manager for Bradford explaining how he could use the DDA to round up any aggressive latchkey dogs in the city. He pointed out that there were approximately 10,000 latchkey dogs in the city - a fifth of the total dog population.
A lengthy section on the German 'Fighting Dog' laws followed, showing graphic news footage of the scene in a Hamburg playground where six year-old Volkan Kaja was killed by a Pit Bull and an Amstaff, both of which were shot dead by police.
"Overnight dogs became Public Enemy No 1" ran the narrative, cutting to the story of "Asterix", a Mastiff type who as guarding his owner's factory on the day news of Volkan's death broke. Heidrun Wagner found Asterix lying in a pool of his own blood, the dog having been stabbed through the bars of the fence. Luckily, he survived, but the attack showed just how high public feeling was running.
An examination of the German legislation revealed the loaded "Character Test" which all dogs have to undergo.
"Rocky", an Amstaff owned by Veronika Dewald of Wiesbaden was shown being tested by official dog tester Manfred Willnat. "If a dog shows high aggression in the test, then he can show it in other circumstances," he said. Luckily, Rocky passed his test - but only just, with Herr Willnat giving the dire warning that the dog was a borderline case.
Veronica Dewald bemoaned the fact that non-dog owners took the view that all dogs were killers, and how she was made, as the owner of a listed breed, to have a large sign on her door saying 'Beware of the Dangerous Dog'.
Campaigner Gabi Woiwode spoke at length, very eloquently pointing out that "our politicians are creating the same kind of hatred and oppression (towards dog owners) as we have seen in our history."
The case of retired nurse Vera Moc-Rossu who was roughly handcuffed by police officers as they searched her apartment for her 'dangerous dog' Paul was touched upon, as was the brutal shooting of 'Zeus', a large crossbreed who was alleged to have picked up a dog walker's Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in its mouth.
One of the saddest sights of all was the 'canine concentration camp' in Hamburg, where rows and rows of small metal pens held dogs which were awaiting decisions on their fate. Many were former pets of people who had failed their own 'Character Test' and had proved not to be responsible owners in they eyes of the law. The Kennel Manager pointed out that the dogs had no quality of life and it was as much as his staff could do just to feed and care for the dogs.
Gabi Woiwode was again quoted; "Other countries are following suit with the German dog laws, Dogs are now our enemies."
The second half of the programme turned its attention to trained fighting dogs and a genuinely gruesome dog attack which resulted in the death of a 33 year-old woman from San Francisco, as well as training methods to prevent canine aggression.
(Part Two will be reviewed in next week's issue of OUR DOGS)