Bad dog or bad owner?
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Bad dog or bad owner?

When a dog attacks a person outside your property, who is to blame, the dog or the owner?” asks Terence Pillay

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Someone sent me a horrific story recently about a domestic worker who was attacked by a dog while on her way home. The dog was not fenced in on its property and the owner refused to take responsibility for the attack.

As a journalist, I am meant to be objective about stories that come my way, by when something as unjust as this takes place, I cannot remain impartial. Last year I handled the story of these two dogs that burrowed under the boundary fence, got on to the neighbours property and mauled a child to death. Again, the dog owners didn’t believe they were responsible for the dog’s behaviour.

The lady who got attacked says the dog was racist. To me, that’s a ridiculous notion. But there is the possibility that a racist owner could be teaching the animal behaviour that might come across as such. There are people across the colour spectrum who own dogs and so if this woman believes that a racist dog bit her, why aren’t the thousands of dogs biting people in areas where people of colour predominantly reside?

In another story I recently read – and it was not about an owner and the pet, but the same principle – a woman who was transporting her beloved dog to Cape Town used a company called Pet Port, who apparently was very good with the transporting of her pet. But unfortunately any company that transports anything has very limited access to the aircraft – you get to a point and you leave the cargo and it’s then the responsibility of the airline and the Airports Company to take it from there.

And so workers at the airport left the dog in a box on the tarmac at Durban International Airport waiting to be loaded but it turned out that they left it there for three hours in the sweltering heat of a Durban summer, without water, and it eventually died of dehydration. Initially I thought this was fake news because it was so incredulous but it turns out this is exactly what happened. The woman, apparently, is now in the process of taking it up with the people responsible for the disaster.

So what did they think will happen to a dog in the blazing hot Durban summer at midday? Just because it was a dog doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it with the utmost care and sensitivity. Have you ever seen a dog pant on a hot day? They need to be hydrated.

The thing about pets is that they need a lot of care. And if you can’ be responsible then you simply shouldn’t have one. In a way it’s like having a child, because these animals are totally dependent on you. They are domesticated. And dogs especially aren’t like monkeys or cats, that on the whole can survive by leaping over fences, hunting, go wandering (unless of course they live with an obsessive-compulsive owner who would not allow it out), dogs are a little more attached to their owners. They’re dependent on the owner for food – they don’t hunt anymore like wild dogs do – and are generally quite helpless really.

A lot of people also keep dogs as a security measure. And some of the guidelines say you should keep your dogs inside because they then become an early warning system for an intruder, but you have people who don’t bother to secure their properties – the fences have holes in them – and their dogs then get out and on to the street and causes mayhem, especially like the case of the pedestrian I spoke about earlier.

When it comes to owning dogs, the nuisance bylaws take effect. This bylaw says that people shouldn’t become a nuisance to their neighbours. So if your dog is constantly running in the street it creates a nuisance not just to the neighbours but also to pedestrians that may be using the road too.

Also, if people are going to have bigger, more aggressive dogs that do not get along with people, then they should make double the effort to secure them within their property to avoid running out and attacking people passing by. At the end of the day, the animal is your responsibility so you should be held liable if your dog does attack someone in a public space.

The thing is: every dog has the potential to be aggressive, even the small little ones that you carry around in a handbag that snarl at you at the local supermarket so it’s up to you as the owner to ensure that people are adequately protected from an attack by your pet.

But even further than attacking people on the street, dogs may not necessarily be street savvy, so they have no idea when to cross the street and can be seen darting across the road despite heavy traffic. They then pose a danger to drivers who could cause an accident by trying to avoid running over the dog, or they could themselves be killed by a car. Dogs don’t read the red and green man on the traffic light – to them it’s just another stroll in the savannah and so they will cross in front of a speeding car and get whacked.

So there are people who have dogs as pets and they have every right to, but people also have a right to walk on pavements, in public spaces, on the promenade and so on and not expect to be attacked by a pet you’ve failed to control by way of a fence at home or a leash in public.

And there are actually rules for public promenade type areas and I guess that would apply to pavements in suburban areas or any place that is meant for pedestrian traffic. You should definitely not be walking your dog off-lead in a public place where you have no control over that dog. You don’t know how that dog is going to react to something.

I recently came across a wonderful initiative called Fundanenja. They have identified problems with inoculations and fleas and ticks and also general behaviour issues of dogs in townships , and what they do is they get children from townships to adopt a dog and then they teach them how to train the dog. They found the initiative to be really good because it gives them responsibility and teaches them values like caring for something or somebody else. It’s really is an excellent project.

Do you believe that there are bad dogs or just bad owners?

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and engage with him there.  

READ: Teach them well and let them lead the way

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