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Time for restrictions on dangerous dogs

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There can be few sights more terrifying for a member of the community in a public area than to be confronted with an aggressive dog, running towards them with teeth bared. Yet according to the latest figures, hundreds of Canberrans and their pets face that situation every year, with more than 100 people injured in attacks.

Following the hospitalisation of a 92-year-old Sydney woman and her 70-year-old daughter in April after being attacked by an American pit bull, the ACT has moved to strengthen penalties for owners whose dogs attack others. 

The data supplied to the Sunday Canberra Times does not specify which breeds were responsible for the attacks, so it is impossible to say with certainty that a particular type of dog is to blame.

However, there are a number of breeds well-known as being dangerous - those that have been bred for fighting or attacking characteristics. Outside the police, security industry, breeders who show the animals and a small handful of others, the question needs to be asked, why do we allow these potentially dangerous animals to live in our suburbs with people who may not be taking adequate measures to ensure they do not attack members of the community?

Owners of those breeds will argue - as does the Australian Veterinary Association - that breed specific laws are unlikely to reduce attacks. One of the reasons such laws are problematic is that many attacks can be traced back to cross breeds, as well as other popular breeds like labradors that are widely regarded as non-aggressive.

There are of course exceptions to every rule - for every aggressive labrador there is a well-trained and benign doberman - which demonstrates that owners, rather than the animals themselves, may be the biggest hurdle in reducing dog attacks.

Unfortunately, derelict owners who neglect or mistreat their animals are unlikely to be deterred from owning a dog by the prospect of copping a fine, should their animal escape or attack someone.

Perhaps placing more onus on prospective owners before they are able to obtain a dog, by requiring minimum training, or special conditions on dogs assessed as potentially more dangerous than others, may be more effective.

Like with weapons, the best solution is to prevent dangerous dogs from falling into the hands of those who are not prepared to take appropriate safety precautions in the first place.

Dogs play an important role as companions and friends in our community, but they come with heavy responsibilities. Those who are not prepared to train, restrain and appropriately care for a dog should be prevented from owning one. In the debate about dog-owner rights, the safety of members of the community minding their own business in public spaces must come first.  

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