Simon Kelner: Dogs reflect back to us the good and the bad in life

Kelner's view


The pages of i this week have reflected the full spectrum of emotions inspired by our relationship with dogs. From melt-your-heart affection to stomach-churning horror, all canine life was here.

I am not exactly a disinterested party when it comes to dogs: I have a long-haired dachshund so, for me, the picture we printed of a United Nations debating chamber peopled, so to speak, with dachshunds was a joy to behold.

It's a piece of travelling installation art in which dachshunds of every type act as the delegates. Australian artist Bennett Miller chose dachshunds for the very reason that the variety of the breed represents the "racial diversity" of humankind. They are a picture of thoughtfulness, constancy and fellowship, just like the United Nations itself, you might not say. Anyway, it was a picture as charming as the story elsewhere in the paper was shocking.

A two-year-old child remains in hospital in Bristol with serious facial injuries after being savaged by a neighbour's Staffordshire bull terrier, the child's life having been saved by the bravery and quick-thinking of his grandfather. Once we have got over the revulsion at the incident itself and the reaction of the dog's owner – "If you're a parent, you have to look after your children 24 hours a day. If it wasn't a dog, it could have been a paedophile" – there remains an angry bewilderment about why attacks such as this should be happening and with increasing frequency. It is particularly pertinent in this case, given that within the past year police visited the house where the dog, one of two, was kept, and an officer was bitten despite having tasered the animal in its mouth. The legal problem with dangerous dogs is the act was brought in with haste by John Major's government in 1991 in response to a number of attacks by pit bulls.

The Dangerous Dogs Act is seen by the union representing Royal Mail workers – every day, 12 are bitten – and the Kennel Club as inadequate, given that it doesn't apply to dogs on private land, doesn't result in serious penalties and covers only four breeds, not including Staffordshire bull terriers. In the latest figures available, the number of children and adults attacked by a dog increased for the fifth year in succession. In urban areas, where the penchant for "weapon dogs" is most prevalent, admissions to A&E for dog-related injuries have more than doubled recently. And, despite being outlawed by the 1991 act, it is believed that the number of pit bulls in Britain is growing.

The law governing dangerous dogs needs redrafting, if nothing else to take account of modern mores. Better still, what about compulsory licences, with proper sanctions for non-compliance? And a complete ban on any breed recognised as dangerous?

I can hear the objections now: it's not the dog, it's the owner. Doesn't the gun lobby say a very similar thing?

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