When dogs kill humans

2012-03-02 00:00

THE death of 65-year-old Allan Lorton on his own property by a neighbour’s pit bull on February 9 in Sherwood, Durban, is one of many that I have heard about.

The horror of this incident will forever be burnished in the memories of those who witnessed the tragedy. Every time something like this occurs, people ask me why it happens.

It happens because people make decisions without determining the consequences of their actions with 100% accuracy. Obviously, if I knew the history of this dog it would be easier for me establish the cause.

With all the information available today about making the right choices regarding pet ownership and education, I am always amazed when an innocent human being is killed by a dog.

I refuse to believe that when acquiring a pit bull or a pit bull crossbreed, owners are unaware of the history of this breed.

Please understand that there is nothing wrong with pit bulls. This is solely an owner issue.

Over the years, I have been around many terrier-breed dogs, that have never caused their owners any concern whatsoever, regarding adult or child safety.

The reason these pets have never developed behaviour problems is quite simply because owners act responsibly in providing adequate mental development.

Unfortunately, quite often after some sort of security breach, puppies or adult dogs are brought home for protection.

The puppy’s mind develops quickly, and just like children, they will become dysfunctional if the adaptive intelligence is stunted due to social deprivation and poor environmental coping skills.

If dogs are treated with respect, it is a guarantee that agression will never become an issue.

Should it be someone’s intention to acquire a new pet, then it is imperative that various factors, such as the following, are taken into account.

• With a rehomed dog. make sure you have an accurate idea of the history, especially if abnormal aggression is suspected.

• Don’t buy from a breeder where abnormal aggression is perceived in either the dam or sire.

• Ask the breeder for his or her vet’s details, and speak to the vet yourself.

• When gathering information, be careful not to let your judgment be clouded by emotions.

• If you have impulse-control issues, then ask a reputable professional for assistance regarding objectivity.

• Enrol your pet in a sound education programme, where the critical imprinting needs are catered for adequately.

• Show your new pet that people are always higher in the hierarchy, and with multiple dog packs, don’t interfere with the natural canine pecking order.

• Ensure that people and the environment to which the puppy is exposed to do not cause unnecessary stress.

• Ensure temperament compatibility, and if in doubt about this aspect, then consult someone who understands the human and canine psyche.

• Specific breeds will produce breed-specific behaviour.

Laws regarding gun ownership have changed significantly with regards to ensuring that applicants have the necessary skills when buying and handling weapons. But in the case of pet ownership, there are no legal requirements forensuring appropriate steps are taken to prevent pets becoming a liability. Why? What is the difference? Both dogs and weapons have the potential to injure or kill.

What makes Lorton’s death so unforgettable is, firstly, the duration of the mauling which went on for about an hour, and, secondly, when his wife Linda, who rushed to the scene from work and said: “I got there as fast as I could, and was just in time to hold him as he passed away.”

How incredibly sad.

• Steve van Staden is a canine-behaviour specialist, and can be contacted via his website at www.dogtorsteve.co.za

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