Missing the point by arguing about who is to blame... - Veterinary Practice
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Missing the point by arguing about who is to blame…

Periscope continues the series of reflections on issues of current concern

THERE are two stories of veterinary
interest this month that spring to
mind on which to give an opinion.

The first is that of yet another tragic
human death, this time an 11-month-old
baby girl, as the result of a dog attack. I
have written about this subject before in
this column and sadly it was inevitable
that the topic would need to be revisited.
I am fed up with hearing that “it’s not
the dog’s fault” or “deed NOT breed”
platitudes that ignore the obvious.

Depending on which data you
believe there have been
between 18 and 27 deaths
recorded in the UK since 2005 as a result of dog
attacks. Most, but not all,
have been caused by “bull
type” breeds such as pit bulls and their
crosses (including “staffie” crosses),
American bulldogs, bull mastiffs and

The common denominator in most
of these cases is that the dogs are
powerfully built breeds originally bred for
either fighting or guarding. They were
not bred for keeping as pets and general

Could you recommend it?

Who with any knowledge would
recommend someone taking on such a
dog to fulfil that role when there are
hundreds of more suitable dogs to
choose from? Is there a vet in the
country who hasn’t at some time
experienced genuine fear when
confronted in the consulting room with a
particular individual from one of these

Clearly dogs of any breed can, and
do, bite people and the good old “docile”
Labrador is as guilty as anyone when
certain situations present themselves. But,
despite being the most popular pedigree
pet dog in the country, Labradors are not
top of the list for killing people.

The difference between those dogs
that do and don’t kill is the animals that
press home their attack: namely those
breeds mentioned previously.

“It’s not the dog’s fault, it’s the
owners,” is the common mantra but
arguing about where to apportion blame
misses the point. Remove dogs of this
type from the pet owning public and the
albeit relatively small number of human
deaths attributed to dog attacks will all
but disappear. And why should people
who simply want a pet dog complain that
such dogs are no longer available to

Clearly, if you ban some breeds then
others will rise in popularity to take their
place. I can think of Rhodesian ridgebacks, Dobermans, German
shepherds, Akitas and Malamutes as
being likely candidates. What needs to
happen is that the ownership of all such
dogs should be discouraged by the
authorities, making it as difficult as
possible for people to keep them.

Rather than insisting that everybody
needs to license their dog, a list of breeds
should be drawn up for which strict
licensing rules would be enforced. The
cost of the licence would be substantial
(hundreds rather than tens of pounds) and the person applying for it would
need to attend a course in dog care and
training and pass a suitability assessment
for which they were also required to pay.

The dogs would need to be
microchipped and not be allowed in
public without being muzzled and on a
lead. Owning such a dog would start to
be seen as something rather antisocial.

For such legislation to be successful it
would need to be rigidly enforced: lack of
enforcement was the great failing of the
Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. Dogs of a
breed on the list whose owners had not
complied with the legislation should be
confiscated and humanely euthanased.


Most people would be deterred by such
stringent requirements from owning
these dogs and consequently there would
be little incentive to breed them. Those
who genuinely desired to keep one
would, by complying with the licensing
requirements, demonstrate that they were
up to the job.

No doubt the measures I am
proposing would be considered by many
to be a step too far but since there are all
manner of other more suitable breeds to
choose a pet or companion from, what
could people justifiably complain about?

Yes, there are some out there who
would complain that this was interfering
with a person’s civil liberties. My
response to that is that the civil liberties
of those mauled to death by a dog have
most definitely been interfered with. Let
those who complain get themselves a
poodle instead.

Slaughtered giraffe

The second news item that caught my
interest was that concerning the two-
year-old giraffe Marius who was
slaughtered at Copenhagen zoo through
being surplus to requirements.

There was something of an
outcry in the British media in
response to this, though it
wasn’t clear to me exactly the
nature of the complaint. Was it the killing of Marius
himself; the fact that he was
then dissected in front of
Danish schoolchildren; or the
feeding of parts of him (still
clad in his vividly marked skin
and hair) to the zoo’s resident
lions? Perhaps it was all three.

I have no strong opinion about
the rights and wrongs of zoos. Some are
certainly better than others and I don’t
believe that bad zoos have any place in
the 21st century. But I can see the pros
and cons of a good zoo. And good zoos
are not animal refuges.

If they are to fulfil a functional role
in conservation, which is after all one of the stronger
arguments in their favour,
they cannot afford to be
sentimental about things.
Funds and space are
precious resources that need
to be used optimally and if
Marius’ genes were
considered to be
expendable, then
unfortunately there was no
advantage to keeping him.

Just as on the plains of
Africa it is a case of survival
of the fittest – and one
could argue that it was
perfectly fitting for his carcase to be fed
to the lions that, in the wild, may have
killed him well before he reached his
second birthday.

As for dissecting him in front of schoolchildren? Well I am prepared to
bet that it is one day in school that they
will never forget and I suspect that they
learnt something about anatomy and physiology and
ecology as well.

It is good for
children to understand life and
death from an early
age in a matter-of-
fact way and at least
their experience of
the “circle of life”
will not have been
gained solely from
an animated Disney

Nature really is
red in tooth and
claw and just because most of modern society is
protected from this (grim or beautiful –
depending on your point of view) reality,
doesn’t mean to say that it’s the right
thing to do.

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