If it’s true that dogs reflect their owners’ personalities, then the streets of Britain are overrun with latent murderers inclined to cannibalism.
Last year there were 22,000 cases of dogs causing injuries, 10 of them fatal. One plastic surgeon in Slough (p. 158,000) says he treats an average of two people mauled by dogs every week.
He isn’t talking about cosmetic bites either: the injuries inflicted by dogs were like “gunshot wounds”, with bone, muscle and tendons “hanging out all over the place”.
The surgeon singled out American Bully XL dogs as the principal culprits, and three days ago two of them justified that distinction by mauling a man to death.
That breed is responsible for some 70 per cent of dog-related fatalities, but other breeds do their level best too. Staffordshire bull terriers, pit bulls and rottweilers also score high, and even good old Dobermans, no longer employed as death camp guards, make their modest contribution.
In response to the latest fatal attack, PM Sunak said American Bullies would be banned before the end of the year, which announcement had a distinct taste of déjà vu about it. It was back in 1991 that the Dangerous Dog Act was passed, with the Home Secretary at the time, Kenneth Baker, vowing to “rid the country of the menace of those fighting dogs”.
In the intervening 32 years the menace in question has increased exponentially, as has the number of dogs specifically bred for violence. That reinforces my suspicion that most laws passed by modern governments actually encourage the activity they are supposed to eliminate.
Lord Baker, still going strong, has responded to the latest lethal attack by insisting that all American Bullies should be “neutered or destroyed”, with those left alive muzzled at all times.
Personally, I think that, once the news value of the most recent fatality has diminished, nothing of substance will be done. The fact that Lord Baker still pronounces on this subject 32 years after the Act establishes a continuity of inactivity, and there is little to suggest that the government will mend its ways.
In fact, rather than having their savage beast neutered, some owners inject them with steroids to make them even more murderous. This reminds me of a National Rifle Association bumper sticker: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people”.
Since such dogs are clearly meant to be weapons, they should be treated as guns whenever they cause an injury. Unlike guns, however, they may kill on their own initiative, which makes them even more objectionable.
For that reason I suggest that all breeds known to have been guilty of lethal attacks be summarily culled. The case for such a measure is much stronger than for banning firearms, which after all don’t fire unless someone pulls the trigger.
Laws against dog violence should be directed not just at the dogs but also at their owners. Anyone whose dog causes an injury should be convicted of assault. If the injury is serious, the charge should be GBH; if a death results, murder.
The next obvious measure would be a law making it obligatory that all dogs – and not just the most dangerous ones – must be muzzled and on a lead in public places. Even the cuddliest of puppies can inflict wounds, and I have a scar on my finger to prove the point.
All dogs, and not just those bred for this purpose, are dangerous, but what really interests me here is the mentality of their owners. Why would most Britons want to own a dog?
Some 85 per cent of us live in towns and cities. I’d venture a guess that most of our urban dwellers reside in flats or terraced houses, and even those few who live in detached houses typically don’t have large gardens. Hence dogs have to be taken walkies, typically in crowded streets.
That creates a target-rich environment for the dogs and a rather unpleasant duty for their owners. But picking up dog excrement off the pavement is only one payment for the pleasure of owning a dog.
Dogs reduce the owners’ mobility because it’s impossible to take a dog on most trips. The upkeep of a dog is also jolly expensive, running to thousands every year, and that’s even before we consider the vet bills.
Nor can it be much fun for the animals themselves, especially the bigger ones. Rather than running through fields, woods or at least large gardens, they stay cooped up indoors all day, totally dependent on their owners for food and water or a breath of fresh air, and in general unable to look after themselves.
A recent poll provides a worrying explanation of why a third of UK households share their quarters with a dog. Two out of three respondents say their dog is their best friend, and a quarter prefer their pet to their other half. Asked why they felt that way, 60 per cent said that, unlike their spouses or lovers, dogs don’t judge and like to cuddle.
On that criterion, an old tweed jacket can do just as well. It’s warm, cuddly and wouldn’t even think of judging anyone living in mortal fear of being found wanting.
Since I don’t like dogs, I wouldn’t mind in the least if all them were put down. But I realise that some people may regard this solution as too radical. Then again, some dogs have a legitimate job to do: they can guide blind people through the streets, do guard duties, retrieve the ducks or grouse their owners shoot.
Dogs have always abounded in Britain, as any number of old paintings can testify. But until recently, when people stopped fearing the judgement of God and began to fear the judgement of other people, most dogs worked for a living.
They certainly used not to be treated with soppy sentimentality, with which modern people replace true sentiment. In fact, some of my good friends have been known to use dogs, emetically, as surrogate children. But none of such dogs had a killing pedigree. They were all dachshunds, Yorkies, Jack Russells or some fluffy creatures no bigger than a large rat.
Those of my friends who shoot, some of them compulsively, use dogs bred for that activity, mostly Golden Retrievers. These people treat their dogs better than the other group, training and disciplining them without ever trying to indulge in foreplay.
Yet in my lamentably long life I’ve never known anyone who owned a fighting dog, which suggests that group is drawn from a different social stratum. In fact, whenever I see such an animal in the street, its owner invariably sports tattoos and a feral expression to match his pet’s.
That, I suspect, is why nothing has been – nor will ever be – done about violent dogs, for all the laws to that effect. Any enforced ban would be seen as directed specifically against the downtrodden, which would escalate the class war waged in the media.
Any American Bully owner wishing to keep his dog could emphasise his humble origins and also claim homosexuality, gender fluidity and some racial admixtures. He could then inject his pets with steroids and watch it maul another victim with impunity. “It’s all society’s fault, M’lord”.