By Jennifer Peltier
While Diesel’s future has been decided in court, the dog is still in the pound.
The fate of the German Shepherd cross who won a reprieve from Death Row, raises some deeply troubling questions. How can it be right that the regional district has to foot an estimated $100,000 bill to keep Diesel in the pound for two years? Why was David Smith, his owner, cited an astonishing 13 times in four years for not controlling his dog, with very little direct action being taken. What if Diesel had bitten a child, rather than another dog? And perhaps most crucially of all, we need to question ourselves about what can we do to stop cases like this happening again?
Responsible Dog Ownership
Most people have a notion of what responsible dog ownership means, and the majority of dogs are well cared for and cherished. Their medical, exercise and nutritional needs are met without question. But the dog owners who don’t understand the emotional needs of their pets are more likely to find themselves with an aggressive dog, and it is owner education that is likely to be the key to this problem. As part of their wider responsibility to the community, the onus is on the owners to make sure they train their dogs properly. Is it time for compulsory dog management classes for new dog owners? How else can we prevent accidents from happening? Because Diesel’s case is not the worst by a long way.
Last year, two four-year-old children were viciously attacked by Pit Bull Terriers within the space of a week. Emma-Leigh Cranford of White Rock had been happily playing with the pit bull just a few days before it attacked her at a barbeque, pinning her up against a fence and tearing into her face. According to her parents, Elizabeth and Mike Cranford, the attack happened in seconds, and they didn’t know at first whether their child had survived. Two hours of painstaking surgery were needed to repair the injuries to her face, but she will certainly be scarred for life. Hayden Bush, of Kelowna, was also attacked by a friend’s dog as he reached to out stroke the animal. Also bitten on the face, Hayden’s wounds needed 32 stitches to repair. It is a miracle that neither of these children lost their lives, but it’s only a matter of time before someone does.
Although Diesel’s case is regarded by many as slightly comical – a dog on Death Row, spared at the last moment – it is anything but. The seriousness of this case is not so much the gravity of dog’s behaviour, but the unwillingness of his owner David Smith, or local authorities, to take responsibility for the fiasco. Citing an owner 13 times for having a dangerous dog, yet failing to force through any action is shocking management. Owning a dog who has had multiple complaints against it, and not attempting to have it retrained, is wilful irresponsibility.
If the owners won’t and the law enforcers don’t, who will protect children like Hayden and Emma-Leigh? Debate about the banning of certain breeds is always contentious, although Toronto saw a marked decrease in dog biting incidents following the banning of pit bull dogs seven years ago. Richmond, amongst other cities, has settled on an increase in compulsory dog licensing fees for dangerous breeds – up to $216. These include Pit Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and American Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This is a step in the right direction perhaps, but it’s not a complete solution. According to the study "Breed Differences in Canine Aggression" (D.Duffy, Y. Hsu. and J.Serpell) pitbulls only scored ‘average’ for stranger directed aggression, although high for dog to dog aggression. The most aggressive breeds overall came in as dachsunds, chiuahuas, and jack russell terriers. While they can’t inflict as much harm as quickly, perhaps, it demonstrates the difficulties faced when legislating in this contentious area. The only complete answer lies with pet owners themselves. Perhaps if owners were hit in the wallet even further, it might force them to take the issue more seriously.
Protect Yourself and Your Community
Aside from your wider responsibility to the community, if your dog injures a person, another animal or destroys property, you may find that you are liable for damages. You could be charged with negligence or failure to control an animal. In some cases the claimant may not even need to prove that you knew your dog was dangerous. One sensible option is to apply for third party liability insurance, to protect against claims made against you. Compulsory third party liability insurance might focus the minds of dog owners on taking full responsibility for their dogs, and actively themselves and others in the event of an incident. Compulsory dog training classes may also help new owners to understand their dogs. Whilst these measures may seem draconian, they are the precise legal requirements for driving a car (passing a driving test, a license, and possession of valid insurance). Isn’t it time we started taking the same precautionary measures with our dogs? It’s hard to argue that the injuries sustained by Hayden Bush and Emma-Leigh Cranford are of lesser seriousness than injuries sustained in a car crash.
We hope that Diesel, who has been failed by both his owner and the authorities, has a good outcome after his lengthy ordeal. Let’s hope, for everyone’s sake, that his re-training program is successful.