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Now ‘deadly dogs’ are on the increase says TV programme ~ 4 x 4 - BBC 2 - Monday July 1 2002


ATTACKS ON human beings and other animals by dangerous dogs are on the increase, according to a hard-hitting documentary screened earlier this week. As part of the BBC’s ‘4 X 4’ programme thread, where four reporters all present different views and aspects of a controversial subject, the programme screened this Monday, entitled ‘Deadly Dogs’ showed that the Dangerous Dogs Act was simply not working in preventing dog attacks, which were on the increase.

The programme started with the first report, by Vanessa Collingridge on the recent biting incidents in Wolverhampton, where two young girls both suffered horrific injuries form neighbour’s dogs that were out of control.

The operating theatre at Birmingham Children’s Hospital was the first stop, depicting in gruesome detail an operation to save 10 year-old Nicki Hughes’ arm, after it had been torn by a Rottweiler. Surgeon Hiroshi Nishikawa spoke intelligently about he extent of Nicki’s injuries and stated that dog bites - especially to children - were on the increase.

Collingridge the explained how the attack occurred, but the programme lapsed into cliché when it offered a ‘reconstruction’ of the attack showing a Rottweiler ‘snarling’ and ‘attacking’ in close up. Even the viewer with the sketchiest knowledge of dogs would have seen, by the dog’s body language, that it was certainly not in attack mode. Such sensationalism diminished the underlying serious message.

Skin graft

Nicki herself spoke brightly and intelligently about the attack and related how her friend saved her life by kicking the dog repeatedly until in released her and its owner then pulled it away, but not before it had taken a tennis ball-sized gouge out of her arm, which necessitated a skin graft from her leg to repair the damage. The dog was later destroyed.

Nicki’s father Alan Hughes spoke of his horror at Nicki’s injuries, which he likened to a “shark attack”.

Arguably worse were the injuries sustained by five year-old Leah Preston, also form Wolverhampton, who was savaged recently by two crossbreeds owned by a neighbour. The dogs escaped from a metal cage in their garden and burst into Leah’s garden and began mauling her. The dogs were eventually captured by he neighbour and were later destroyed.

Unusually for a programme screened so early on in the evening, Leah’s bite wounds were shown in their full, horrific detail. Mr Nishikawa explained to Collingridge that Leah had to undergo five weeks of operations to stabilise her wounds.

The most recent consultation to assess the damage was screened with the permission of Leah’s parents. Even the staunchest, most responsible dog lover watching could not have failed to be repelled by the extent of Leah’s injuries, particularly to her legs.

Leah’s mother, Diane Reynolds spoke how the attack had made her fear for her daughter’s future safety and said that she would “never let her out of my sight” and was erecting a six-foot fence all round her garden.

According to the report, she was preparing to launch a campaign to control dangerous dogs, although no further details were given. However, on the BBC Interactive report following the original transmission, Wolverhampton MP Ken Purchase indicated that he was fully behind Ms Reynolds and was calling on the Government to tighten the laws relating to dangerous dogs.

Nicki Hughes was again shown, playing happily with her own family per dog, which, thankfully, she still adores. Her father Alan commented: “I’m extremely concerned that the law does not restrict the owners of dogs. The law should apply to owners in some way.”

The next report was by Ginny Buckley, who related the background to the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Act in 1991, with news footage of Pit Bull terriers and the horrific injuries inflicted on Ruskhana Khan and Frank Tempest.

The camera crew followed Birmingham City Dog Warden Vicky Eldridge on her daily rounds for Birmingham City Dogs’ Home. The report stated that each week, Birmingham council picks up 130 dogs “as vicious as those that attacked the girls,” although no substantiation to this comment that all the strays were vicious was given. The warden had been called to catch a stray dog that had allegedly bitten some children. She was filmed cornering the nervous Collie cross and dragging it via a catchpole to her van. A tearful woman living nearby related how her child had been bitten by a dog and pointed out that it as only right that strays were taken off the streets.

The dog was later reclaimed by its owner.

Reporter Buckley then showed viewers her own dog and related how she had been attacked by a “Pit Bull cross” whilst out walking one day. This was followed by more old news footage of Pits Bulls form 1991.

Buckley was then shown surfing Internet sites for dog fighters, although no distinction as made as to which country these sites came from. The statistic that over 3,400 people were admitted into hospital in the UK last year with dog bites was pointed out.

The report then focused on the case of David Hughes from Cornwall who was last month convicted of dog fighting and jailed for three months. Seized home video footage of two of Hughes’ dogs fighting each other and being trained by Hughes himself was shown.

RSPCA Special Operations Officer Terry Butcher was interviewed and said that, over the past 18 months, dog fighting was on the increase. He also stated that ardent dog fighters were creating their own ‘new’ Pit Bull, which they referred to as an “Irish Staffordshire Bull terrier”. This was Reeves’ defence in court, although this did not prevent him from being convicted and, according to the report, his Pit Bull put to sleep.

Vet Alison Jane Morris Robson, a regular witness for the prosecution in DDA cases - referred to as Jane Robson, a ‘Veterinary Genetics Expert’ lamented the fact that the police were “no longer pro-active” in pursuing DDA cases against Pit Bull ‘type’ dogs, as they could not afford to do so these days.

Protection

Buckley then explained that drug dealers often used vicious dogs to protect them and spoke to an anonymous ex-drug dealer - complete with hooded sweatshirt and filmed in long shot - who used a Staffordshire Bull terrier to protect himself when he was on his rounds. “With £1,000 worth of skank in my back pocket, I needed a vicious dog to protect me,” he said.

Buckley’s report ended with more RSPCA video footage of a raid on a dog fighter’s kennels. Depicting several Pit Bulls in outdoor runs. According to the report, when police searched the owner’s house, they recovered £100,000 worth of cannabis.

The third report was by Alice Beer, who explained the ‘Canine Crackdown’ in Germany, detailing the horrific attack on six year-old Volkan Kaja in Hamburg in June 2000, when he was savaged to death by an American Pit Bull terrier and an American Stafford, owned by a local dog fighter.

Sadly, the report glossed over the culpability of the local authorities and police in allowing the dog fighter to go unchecked, despite complaints from the Turkish community in which Volkan lived, although a family friend pointed this out.

Beer then explained how Hamburg City Council had enacted harsh laws and given the police powers to round up ‘dangerous dogs’ - or any dogs they perceived to be ‘dangerous’. This meant seizing the dogs form their owners. The dogs were then locked up in a large warehouse unit until they had undergone tests to prove that they were ‘safe’.

Owen Runde, Mayor of Hamburg until 2001 was interviewed and was completely unabashed by the harsh laws he had enacted. “You do not need these dangerous dogs,” said Runde.

“There are plenty of nice dogs... it’s perverse that people should want these dangerous breeds.”

No anti-Fighting Dog Law campaigners were interviewed, although Beer did talk to a dog owner named Thomas who likened the warehouse holding station as “a concentration camp for dogs” and stated that the owners of genuinely dangerous dogs should be legislated against, not the breed of dog. Sadly, the “Punish the Deed, Not the Breed” slogan was excluded from the report.

Beer then attended an outdoor testing session for six dogs to prove that they were not vicious. Five of the six had been seized by the authorities for being of ‘dangerous’ breeds. “If they fail, they will be given one more chance by further training,” said Beer, “If they fail again, they will be put to sleep.”

Parts of the test were shown - which included a ‘drunk’ shouting at each dog and a bicycle being ridden near them. After two hours, all six
dogs passed the test and were released into their owners’ care.

The report then stated that the harsh laws affected law-abiding dog owners, whose dogs had caused no problem. Owner Birgit Von Hafen tried to explain how police had burst into her home and demanded that they take one of her two dogs, Rocky, as he was a “dangerous fighting dog.” She broke down in tears, unable to finish the interview, whilst a forlorn Rocky was shown in the gruesome holding warehouse, his fate still uncertain.

Beer made the point that similar laws had been passed throughout Germany and there were calls for them to be enacted across Europe. She asked Owen Runde whether Hamburg’s laws had been an over-reaction. Runde simply replied: “It was not a over-reaction... you have only to look at what happened to Volkan to understand this.”

The final report, by Richard Bilton concerned ‘The Wolf in Your Living Room’ and focussed upon the inherent dangerousness of dogs and how they should be well trained.

The case of ‘Jack’ a four year-old “police trained” GSD owned by Phillip and Michelle Wright was shown. According to the report, Jack was trained by a member of the British Institute of Dog Trainers.

Mr Wright explained that he ad his wife had moved to their new, expensive house and wanted a big dog to protect their property. However, Jack’s tail had become trapped in the door and he had turned on Michelle. Mr Wright bemoaned the fact that he’d “paid for a very expensive dog which we can’t trust.”

The couple the sought the advice of Dog Behaviourist Colin Tennant. Mr Tenant’s services, according to Bilton, did not come cheap, at £125 pet consultation. Tennant spoke at length to the Wrights and asked what training Jack had received. According to the Wrights, this had been fairly standard training with ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ figuring heavily.

Tenant told Bilton: “I don’t think people realise how close dogs are to wolves (in behaviour).... They need to recognise the pack system. You cannot have a high-ranking dog in your family pack... You must be the pack leader.”

Bilton then visited the Kennel Club, explaining that the KC believes ‘dangerous’ dogs are not at fault, but that the blame lies with their owners.

Caroline Kisko of the KC emphasised this point saying the education was the key point and that owners should learn to socialise their dogs properly.

Colin Tennant then demonstrated how ‘Jay’, a 16 week-old Bull Terrier puppy was being trained, but even at such a young age “still has wolf ideas in her head.” He then attended to training Jack, who proved himself to be a very highly-strung dog. “A dog is like a loaded gun,” said Tennant. “You must be able to control the dog with your voice. If you have an untrained dog and an untrained handler, thee two don’t match.”

He told the Wrights bluntly that training Jack could work, but that it would take time and that the dog was “a liability.”

The Wrights decided to return Jack to his previous owner, who had agreed to take him back, and were “sad at his leaving.”

All in all, the programme was essentially accurate, although did, in parts, veer on the side of sensationalism, and failed to back up some comments made. Sadly, no anti-DDA campaigners were interviewed, but then, perhaps as a bonus, so ‘quick fix sound bite’ politicians were interviewed either (apart from Owen Runde), so ostensibly the balance was fair, concentrating on dog experts.

On the Interactive debate following the programme, Dave Levy, Staffordshire Bull terrier Liaison Officer for the Kennel Club made many pertinent points and commented that he felt the debate to be fairly well balanced overall.

The underlying message however, was clear: The DDA, as it stands, is failing and that dog attacks are largely down to the owner, where the ultimate responsibility for a dog’s behaviour rests. Whether this message will be heeded politically and legally, however, remain to be seen.