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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Ellie Lawrenson

I have a dental appointment in less than two hours. Ugh. I have a chipped tooth and my check-up is overdue. Still, I'm truly lucky that's all I have to worry about today.

I doubt anyone in the country - well, anyone with a shred of humanity in them - can have failed to be moved by the death of five-year-old Merseyside girl, Ellie Lawrenson, after an attack by a pitbull terrier. I felt traumatised by the reports I read of her death, on New Year's Day, and I never knew her. I can't possibly imagine how her family feel.

One family member I have utter contempt for, is her uncle, the owner of the hateful pitbull. I hate to generalise and stereotype people, but as soon as I heard the owner was a young male, I thought 'drug dealer'. And I was right, if this morning's tabloid reports can be relied upon. The only pitbull owners I have ever encountered, have been involved in illegal activities, usually drug-dealing.

Certain dog breeds, for example Rottweilers and German Shepherds, are potentially very dangerous, in the wrong hands, because of their sheer size and strength. But I've met many individuals of these breeds, who, despite my general phobia of dogs, I've actually felt very safe with. Recently, whilst at the PDSA with my cat, a man came in with a huge Rottweiler. I was horrified when they sat next to me. Within thirty seconds, the slobbering, ten ton beast offered me his paw, and moments later, had his head on my lap. He had a good owner, who treated him well, fed and exercised him properly, and had taken time to socialise him.

But when we have posturing, macho meat-heads wandering our streets, with dogs trained specifically to attack and intimidate, streets patrolled by an over-stretched, under-financed police service, it's little wonder that we are seeing an increase in such dog attacks. If the Dangerous Dogs Act had been adhered to and strictly applied since its introduction, the only live pitbulls in this country should now be about eighteen years old, and toothless. So it's time the law was applied and funds were made available to the police to carry out their duty.

It seems that police chiefs have been telling their officers not to bother seizing illegal dogs, unless a particular dog is causing a problem. The reason? Cost. Seized dogs are usually kenneled for at least six months, at great cost to the criminal justice system. To further complicate issues, there are three different types of pitbull, all of which look similar to other breeds. There are only about fifteen dog experts in the whole of the UK who can determine for certain whether or not a dog is a pitbull. So experts need to be hired from other police forces, usually the Met, who have nine or ten such experts on their payroll. This, again, adds to the cost of a prosecution.

I think it's time to get tough. Wherever dogs are kept for fighting, or trained for serious aggression, the dogs could be seized, and the owners charged, on the basis of animal cruelty. Sadly, a dog trained to be vicious is no use to anyone, and has to be destroyed eventually, so why not destroy suspected pitbulls according to temperament, not breed? That way, kennelling costs will be reduced, and dangerous animals eliminated. Their breed could be determined via postmortem, and new charges then laid against the owner. Owners of bull terriers and bull terrier crosses need not worry about their dogs being seized in error, as long as they keep them under control at all times.

This brings me to my final point. It's time ALL dogs were licensed. I need a licence just to operate my television, and it has no teeth whatsoever. There are too many irresponsible dog owners around, who cause suffering to their animals, as well as the people their unruly animals annoy or attack. These irresponsible owners also tarnish the reputation of good dog owners and their pets. Maybe there could be varying scales of licence, according to the dog's breed, size, etc, although this would sadly mean the owner of a docile Rottweiler paying more than the owner of an aggressive Yorkie, so it may too unfair a measure to impose. But any dog licensing laws should automatically ban anyone convicted of owning a dangerous dog, from ever holding a licence again. Or at the very least, make them pay a whacking great premium. Let's face it, most dog attacks are the fault of the dog owner, for training their animal to be aggressive, or for let it roam off the leash, into a situation it finds threatening. Let's hope we hear of no more deaths or serious injuries caused by illegal pitbulls and their lowlife owners.

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