I picked up a free paper on the way home from work last night. The headlines screamed that a child in Halstead, Essex had been savaged to death by a dog. The report described how a neighbour had seen a white dog sitting quietly, its face covered in blood moments after a child’s wild and distressed cries had startled the neighbourhood. The report went on to mention the number of attacks by dogs reported in recent weeks. The underlying message, intentional or otherwise, was that dogs were dangerous. There were also hints that it might have been a breed on the banned dogs list. A list that has been shown over and over again to be nonsense.
Later I watched the news on the television. The same story was covered. The attack sounded horrific, the stuff of nightmares. I was wondering how this could have occurred, then the camera panned back to show a windowless shed, the place the dog had been kept.
Now don’t get me wrong. A child attacked by a dog is not something I take lightly, and this child was killed. It couldn’t be worse. But if someone acquires a dog and then keeps it shut in a shed, it is not likely to acquire the skills that will make it a happy socialised animal. Something is likely to go badly wrong.
I watch the animal rescue programmes. The cruelty of some pet owners is almost beyond belief. When prosecuted they get banned from keeping animals for a few years; five or ten usually it seems. It is extremely rare for someone to be banned for life. Maybe they also have to attend some sort of course that teaches them empathy with other living creatures; I don’t know.
I imagine the dog in the incident in Halstead has by now been killed. The owner was arrested for allowing a dog to be dangerously out of control and injuring a person. I don’t know the whole story, and maybe it was a freakish dog with a very aggressive temperament. But I’ll be surprised if it turns out that way.
Human beings make dangerous dogs by not looking after them properly. And when those dogs attack, it is they who are destroyed. Though you could argue, and I would, that have already been destroyed by people who should never have a dog in the first place. My fear with stories like these is that we as a society demonise dogs, and increasingly exclude them from public areas, thus decreasing their chances of being well socialised and increasing the chances of neurotic and aggressive behaviour. Health and safety is often used as an excuse to ban dogs from places where they used to be free to accompany their owners, despite the fact that the regulations do not require such a ban.
It is more than time to reassess our relationships with our fellow animals.