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Restricted Breed Controversy: My Side of the Story

Posted 22 May. 2016

A couple of weeks ago, a post I uploaded to Facebook sparked fierce controversy and was seen by millions of people around the world in a matter of days after going viral. The post, which included a picture of a restricted dog breed sign and a comment explaining how I did not view certain breeds as ideal family pets, resulted in much upset. I apologised for that statement on TV3’s Ireland AM, and I acknowledge the offence caused to families with the breeds of dog on this list. I could never have anticipated the traction that this post would get so I did not put much thought into the wording of it, in retrospect.

Breed Specific Legislation is in place in Ireland under the Control of Dogs Regulations, 1998. This legislation was implemented to ensure the safety of other people and animals in public places, not to punish these breeds or their owners. Under this law, dogs must be muzzled in a public place, be on a leash by a person over the age of 16, and at all times wear a collar bearing the owner’s details. I did not make this law; I asked for the signs to be erected through Meath County Council to make people aware of it.

If a dog on this list is not controlled properly and an incident occurs, the owner of that dog is fully liable and the dog will have to be euthanized. Only a few days ago we heard the story of an out of control dog from this list attacking eleven children in a playground in England, leaving some seriously injured and requiring skin grafts. Had this dog been on a leash at the very least, this incident probably would not have occurred. The owner in this instance was arrested on suspicion of having a dog dangerously out of control and her pet was put to sleep. While I have complete respect for people who love their dogs, as I do, I am worried about the lack of caution that a lot of people seem to have around them. Many comments on Facebook are from owners claiming that their dog has the sweetest nature and would never be aggressive… but how many times have we heard that one before? In so many cases of dog attacks where children have been savaged, the owner reports that the dog was always so quiet prior to the incident.

For every survey that I have read highlighting the dangers of these breeds, another is shown to be contradicting it. I have taken the time to read up on the reports and statistics surrounding dog bites and aggression and I must admit that it is not clear cut. What is clear, is that all dogs have the potential to bite and owner control plays a huge part in bite prevention. I ultimately do believe that we need to completely revise breed-specific legislation and implement mandatory training courses for all dog owners. At the end of the day, however, I am still of the opinion that, although all dogs have the potential to bite, some breeds are stronger and are generally capable of causing more serious harm if they bite due to the power of their jaws. I do not feel that this is ignorance on my part; I am choosing to be careful and I urge others to be the same because although we can train dogs well and demonstrate good ownership, they are still animals with innate behaviours that cannot ever be fully suppressed.

Anthropomorphism refers to the attribution of human characteristics or traits onto animals and this is something that we all do to a certain extent. We like to think that our dog is the friendliest, gentlest creature who is like a childminder to children, and they may well be. The truth is, however, that a dog does not see things from a human perspective and we cannot expect them to do so. We cannot know exactly what causes a dog to lash out in every case and it can be down to 1,000 reasons and none. So to trust any dog 100%, as I see it, is to take a risk. To be clear, I am not trying to bash certain breeds when I say this and I apply this opinion to all breeds.

Some people are under the impression that I have only received backlash in the aftermath of this viral post. On the contrary, I have been overwhelmed with messages of support by people around the world; amidst the disproportionately abusive messages that serve no positive or valuable purpose, there has been lots of correspondence offering constructive criticism which I welcomed and I have been trying to respond to as many genuine messages as I can.

I have been working closely with a local veterinary practice to create Dog Bite Prevention packs for distribution from Meath County Council and also “dos and don’ts” cartoon stickers that will be placed on the restricted breeds signs to help teach children about how to engage appropriately with all dogs. There are definitely a lot of positives that have come out of this experience; I do not regret what happened because responsible dog ownership and training has been catapulted into the forefronts of people’s minds. I hope to use this to my advantage in my position as Councillor by continuing seeking to improve dog welfare, increase the availability of educational packs and devise motions to update the legislation as it currently stands.