Saturday 16 September 2023

Opinion: Public safety is paramount regardless of your cuddly dog

Dogging my freedom to walk

I used to enjoy waking up early before the madding crowd got up to do my walking exercise, during which time I had two hours to myself, did about 15,000 steps and went through two public parks in Salford with the occasional encounter with people I had made an acquaintance with over time.

I stopped just over a year ago for one simple reason, the fear of dogs. Dogs that are momentarily out of control or out of earshot of their owners suddenly run at me because they are not on a leash and for whatever animal instinct they have, decide to attack me.

I had had so many encounters that I even bought an ultrasonic dog repellent device with the hope that the unpleasantness would cause the dog to run from me, but there was no guarantee it would work when you needed it to.

The law on dogs in public

Against this backdrop was the inconsiderate dog owner who would first be oblivious to the law and then project a sense of entitled freedom for their dog. The law requires that dogs in public places such as parks and footpaths should always be on a leash. It is also the responsibility of the dog owner to ensure that the public does not feel threatened by their dog. [GOV.UK: Controlling your dog in public] [BlueCross: Dog laws UK]

One morning as I was walking through the park, the dog walking with its owner bolted towards me and jumped on my leg up to my thigh, if I did not have track bottoms on, I would have had scratches on my leg. The encounter was terrifying for the simple reason, I did not know the dog. The owner however thought I had overreacted to her gentle cuddly puppy just being friendly to strangers, I did not get as much as an apology.

A few other times, I encountered the same dog and as it ran at me, I shouted to the owner to call their dog to order. I began to change the times when I walked through the park, bought the dog repellent device, and eventually concluded, that it was just too much hassle for me, the relaxation I was getting from walking was becoming a stressful and foreboding experience that every dog I saw now looked like a threat to my safety.

Your loving dog, is a public threat

Much as I appreciate the dog owner’s perspective, it selfishly does not consider that the familiarity the dog has with its owner is not automatically transferred to strangers. To turn it around, it is like a stranger jumping out of the bush to pounce on someone unawares, you do not welcome that violation and fright by patting the stranger on the head and giving them a kiss, even if that stranger comes from a family and environment where they are loved, respected, and cherished. A stranger is a stranger whenever you get familiar with the person.

The same would apply to dogs, no assumption should be made of a dog being friendly to strangers in public when they are loving and cuddly at home. That is where the debate should be. For as long as the dogs are in their homes, the public is safe, but when the dogs are brought into a public space, they should be under control and instruction, they should not be menacing, and people should generally not feel terrified of your dog.

Human rights trump animal rights

My freedom to roam and walk at the time of my choosing was trammelled because of an irresponsible dog owner with a sweet dog that was recklessly out-of-control in a public park. Sadly, this is the case in the current issue about the attacks by the American XL Bully dogs reported in the news with many injured needing hospital care and one fatality, in the space of one week.

The counter-advocacy is against the banning of dogs, but if a dog can weigh as much as an average-sized being and is not strictly under control in public places, unfortunate dog attacks can be lethal and life-changing, what is the mitigation for the dog or the dog owner?

In my case, it was not any of the dogs on the banned list, it did not make the dog any less an animal as opposed to a person I could attempt to reason with, in a confrontation. A dog will always remain an animal whether tamed or wild, and much as I subscribe to animal rights and the treatment of animals with care and consideration, they cannot in the face of the law be equal to human beings in terms of the freedom to express themselves as animals with all the instincts that entails.

Public safety remains preeminent

The core responsibility is with the owner to have good control of their dog; however, the essential point is the public should not be fearful of either the dog being out of control or irresponsible dog owners not understanding the situation of their dog being a possible menacing threat in the public. Public safety is paramount, regardless of what relationship you have with your dog in your home setting.

For that reason, I am in support of banning the American XL Bully breed and any associated breeds that could represent a threat to public safety. In addition to that, any dog owner must know the law about dogs in public spaces, they do not have the same and equal rights as persons and examples of the law must be made of dog owners who have taken the right to walk roughshod on the law that requires, they are responsible owners of animals, including dogs. [Petitions: Make XL Bully a banned dog breed in the Dangerous Dogs Act]

Blog - Rottweilers are NOT pets (December 2007)

Blog - A note on "Rottweilers are NOT pets" (May 2010)

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