The recent outpouring of grief following the tragic death of a NSW Central Coast infant, following an attack by the family’s American Staffordshire Terrier, has led to renewed calls to ban all dangerous breeds of dogs in Australia.
However, many experts, including the peak national body representing vets in Australia, argue breed banning doesn’t work and won’t address the real issues involved in dog attacks.
Range of different laws in Australia
In Australia, there are currently two types of laws targeting specific breeds of dogs.
Under Commonwealth customs legislation there is a ban on the importation of several specific breeds of dogs.
Restricted breeds include American Pittbull terriers, along with the lesser-known Perro de Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Japanese Tosa and the Fila Brasileiro.
The American Staffordshire terrier, often confused for American Pit Bull terriers, are also considered restricted if their owner doesn’t have a pedigree certificate or a certificate from a vet.
Most states and territories have also placed restrictions on the ownership of dangerous breeds, such as muzzling in public, desexing, and fence/requirements.
Some states and local councils have taken the further step of banning the prescribed breeds of dogs completely.
Dogs can also be declared dangerous or menacing by local councils, based on a single disputed claim.
Evidence breed banning doesn't work
Despite these bans, dog attacks continue to occur. One child a week is hospitalised in NSW with a serious injury, due to dog attack, usually by the family pet.
Breed banning has also been tried in numerous countries around the world and proven not to work.
For the past twenty years, Britain has banned four breeds of dogs yet the incidence of dog bites has reportedly risen by fifty per cent.
Another argument against breed banning is that it drives the breeding of particularly dangerous breeds underground where it goes unnoticed and unregulated.
Some dogs unfairly targeted
Although breeds considered dangerous, such as Pittbulls and American Staffordshire terriers make the news when serious attacks occur, other breeds on the top list of biting incidents in Australia include the Kelpie, Jack Russell Terrier, Border Collie, Rottweiler and Labrador.
Holly Di Filippo, President of the American Staffordshire Terrier Club, Victoria believes it’s important to educate the public about the true temperament of the breed, which owners refer to as "Amstaffs".
“When true to standard the Amstaff is a family dog and should never appear aggressive in nature. They are not a guarding breed and trust most people to be their friends."
Holly concedes not all dogs are “true to standard” and urges puppy buyers “to do research on a breed and buy from registered, responsible and ethical breeders.
“The ideal specimen must always appear confident and friendly with humans. Absolutely no consideration should be given to an exhibit that appears aggressive, threatening, or shy towards humans.
"These are completely incorrect for the breed and inexcusable," according to Holly.
Vet body argues against banning
According to research carried out by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), the peak body representing vets in Australia, banning particular breeds does nothing to address aggression in dogs and nothing to increase public safety.
Regardless of breed, every single dog can bite and cause damage if its temperament and environment pre-dispose it to do so.
The AVA argues a focus on registration, education and temperament testing would be more effective.
They want to see all dogs identified and registered; a national mandatory reporting system for dog bites; temperament testing when a dog is sold; and a community-wide education campaign on bites for pet owners, breeders, parents and children.
It also wants to see offices working in dog control to be better trained and equipped.
Animal Behaviourist and Consultant, Doctor Kate Mornement, agrees with the AVA’s recommendations and says banning breeds is not the answer.
"We need to promote and encourage responsible pet ownership and need to do more to educate potential dog owners about the behaviour of dogs and the importance of providing early and ongoing socialisation and training.
"Providing comprehensive education to the whole community, especially children, about how to stay safe around dogs is also essential."
Dog attack victim calls for ban on ‘killer dog’
Those who have been the victim of ferocious dog attacks believe banning dangerous breeds is the only answer.
Last week, just hours after the fatal dog attack on the NSW Central Coast, an American Staffordshire terrier ferociously attacked a smaller dog, while walking with its owners in Sydney’s West.
The pet groodle, Peaches, was left with life-threatening injuries and had to undergo over four hours of surgery.
Describing the incident to Nine News, Damien Aggio, whose wife also suffered injuries in the attack when she tried to intervene, said: “it took five people to tear the larger dog off Peaches” and described American Staffordshire terriers as “ticking time bombs that should not be allowed to be kept as pets”.
“They definitely should be banned. They are dangerous dog breeds, bred to kill, not to protect.”
Bruce Wicksteed, Chief Flight Nurse with Medical Air, in Western Australia, is someone else who has witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of a ferocious dog attack.
His daughter Maya, who was six years old at the time, was attacked by a pack of dogs while exploring a property her father was working at.
She required hundreds of stitches and years of counselling following the attack.
Bruce thinks “there definitely needs to be tighter controls on dangerous dog breeds” and he’s shocked by the reaction he gets when he called for tighter controls on Bull Arab mastiffs, the breed of dog that mauled his daughter.”
"The reactions were similar to what you see with the National Rifle Association and people expressing their right to bear arms," Mr Wicksteed said.
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