Saturday, September 26, 2020

Dangerous dogs and Botswana Television

Is a dog a working tool or a pet?
Increasing rates of break-ins and robberies into homes over the last decade in urban and peri-urban areas have increased the need to keep security dogs in addition to and as an alternative to security alarms and guards. Coupled to this, the aspiration by some to lead middle class lifestyles has prompted people to acquire dogs of different shapes, sizes and breeds. The Indian community in Botswana, for instance, which has been well known for its disgust for dogs, have of late been overtaking other nationalities in the acquisition of these security dogs simply because they are more vulnerable to robberies and break ins due to the volume of valuables they keep in their homes.

Most of these new dog keepers have little or no experience with dogs. As stated above they did not acquire them for the simple love of the pet but for other motives. Because of their little knowledge and busy lifestyles, they hardly interact with their dogs as in walking them or playing with them. The dogs are left in solitary confinement or are frustratingly restrained with little or no access to water or food. Most of the factors contributing to dog bites are related to the level of responsibility exercised by dog owners. There is need for public education about dogs and dog ownership.

The need for high and “cheap” security has put victims of crime to more danger in their quest to acquire “vicious and dangerous” dogs. We have over the past five years been experiencing a steady increase in reported deaths of people mauled by dogs and, in some cases, of owners themselves being victims.

Exactly what is a dangerous or vicious dog? It depends on what is meant by “dangerous or vicious.” There is a difference between using the words “dangerous or vicious dog” in an ordinary context, and using them in a legal context.

Vicious dog means a canine or canine crossbreed that has (i) killed a person; (ii) inflicted serious injury to a person, including multiple bites, serious disfigurement, serious impairment of health, or serious impairment of a bodily function; or (iii) continued to exhibit the behavior that resulted in a previous finding by a court that it is a dangerous dog, provided that its owner has been given notice of that finding.

Dangerous dog means any canine or canine crossbreed that has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal, or killed a companion animal; however, when a dog attacks or bites another dog, the attacking or biting dog shall not be deemed dangerous (i) if no serious physical injury as determined by a licensed veterinarian has occurred to the other dog as a result of the attack or bite or (ii) both dogs are owned by the same person. No dog is found to be a dangerous dog as a result of biting, attacking, or inflicting injury on another dog while engaged with an owner or custodian as part of lawful hunting or participating in an organized, lawful dog handling event.

There is a growing controversy over whether all Pit bulls and Rottweilers should be legally classified as dangerous regardless of their actions. In law, the general rule in the United States is that no dog is dangerous because of its breed. Rather, it is dangerous only as a result of its actions.
However, a number of countries have classified all dogs of certain breeds (like Pit bulls) as dangerous. Court rulings also have classified pit bulls as inherently dangerous and have recognized that they can be used as deadly weapons. The airline and insurance industries have established restrictive rules that apply only to certain breeds, although these de facto breed bans are not observed by all companies in any industry.

Dogs that engage in serial attacks and rampage attacks are obviously dangerous. A “serial attack” is an instance of a dog injuring someone after having injured a person or an animal on a previous occasion. A “rampage attack” is an instance of a dog attacking multiple people or animals during a single incident.

Merritt Clifton, the editor of Animal People, has maintained meticulous logs of dog attacks for many years and has found out that Pit bull terriers and Rottweilers together appear to commit about two-thirds of the reported serial attacks on humans (65 percent), and more than three-fourths of the rampage attacks (79 percent). Animal People has learned, in a review of files on approximately 1,500 dog attacks in cases in which a person was killed or maimed, or police shot the dog.

Among the 59 dogs, which flunked a second chance after biting a person or killing a pet, were 28 pit bulls (48 percent), 10 Rottweilers (17 percent), and 21 dogs of 10 other breeds.

The lopsided risk associated with giving Pit Bulls a second or third chance would be even greater if Pit Bull advocates are correct in asserting that Pit bulls are more likely than other breeds to be killed after their first violent incidentÔÇöwhich would mean that relatively few Pit bulls get further chances, and that those who do are among the dogs considered least likely to be genuinely dangerous.

However, the rates of flunking second and third chances among Pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other breeds were all closely comparable to their overall rates of involvement in life-threatening incidents, fatalities, and police shootings of dogs. This suggests that neither Pit bulls nor Rottweilers are subject to statistically quantifiable discrimination in deciding which dogs get extra chances.

Rampage attacks are defined as instances of a dog attacking multiple people or animals during a single incident. About 10 percent of the dog attack cases in the Animal People files involve rampages in which a person is killed or maimed, and/or the dog is shot by police. Of the 153 dogs that rampaged, 89 (58 percent) were pit bulls; 32 (21 percent) were Rottweilers; and 32 (21 percent) were representatives of 14 other large breeds. No dog smaller than a Boxer was involved in a rampage attack, possibly because small dogs are more easily restrained after attacking their first victim.

The log of life-threatening and fatal attacks showed that Pit bulls had committed 592 (45 percent) of the 1,301 total attacks qualifying for inclusion, including 280 (21 percent) of the attacks on children, 222 (60 percent) of the attacks on adults, 51 (34 percent) of the fatal attacks, and 321 (45 percent) of the maimings and disfigurements.

Rottweilers had committed 291 (22 percent) of the attacks, including 24 percent of the attacks on children, 63 (17 percent) of the attacks on adults, 36 (24 percent) of the fatalities, and 159 (22 percent) of the maimings and disfigurements.
Combined, Pit bulls and Rottweilers had committed 72 percent of all the attacks, 45 percent of the attacks on children, 77 percent of the attacks on adults, 58 percent of the fatalities, and 67 percent of the maimings and disfigurements.

In theory, more closely regulating Pit bulls and Rottweilers could markedly reduce dog attacks. In Pennsylvania, the city council in early January 2002 renewed an ordinance, which requires a special permit to keep any breed of dog, which accounted for 40 percent, or more of the dog attacks in the city during the previous year. Pit bulls accounted for 48 percent of the attacks in 1998, the year the ordinance was first adopted, and accounted for 41 percent in 2001ÔÇöbut the total number of attacks has fallen from 113 to 56, and the number of pit bull attacks has declined from 54 to 23.

Dangerous Dog Laws
Despite the fact that researchers generally recommend public education as the most likely cure for the dog bite epidemic, there is need for enactment of specific dangerous-dog laws, including proposals for adoption of breed-specific restrictions to prevent such episodes. Currently in Botswana dog owners are charged with a broader section 239 of the Penal Code for reckless and negligence act.

The dangerous dog laws should generally attempt to define the characteristics of dangerous dogs, set forth the procedure for declaring a particular dog to be dangerous, and establish what will become of a dangerous dog and its owner. These laws may differ widely in how they do all of those things.

They might provide that a dangerous dog can be killed on the spot, can be seized and killed after notice to the owner and an opportunity to be heard, or can have conditions imposed regarding its confinement and appearances on public property.

Additionally, the laws might impose upon the owner a period of time in jail, a fine, and/or a prohibition against owning another dog for a period of years.

It is imperative for every country to have a dangerous dog law in addition to animal control laws.

To this end a special unit within the police service called Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit (VDAU) should be set up to investigate animals that have demonstrated a propensity for viciousness and impose restrictions and behavior modification as remedies to be employed only if reports are made on such behavior.

Responding officers should have the authority to impound any dog that threatens the health safety and welfare of the community.  If the officer on scene of a dog bite feels that the safety of the public is best protected by having the dog impounded then the officers will contact Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) for impound. It must be made clear to owner of the dog by the officer at the scene who has determined that the dog is a threat to public safety and is to be impounded and held pending a vicious and dangerous dog hearing. 

A vicious and dangerous dog hearing has three functions:┬á (1) to determine whether the dog in question is “vicious and dangerous”, as to defined by the Penal Code of the proposed law, (2) to adequately address the safety of the community and (3) to safeguard the welfare of the animal by finding out from the owner about handling and reasons for keeping such dog.

Once a dog is determined to be vicious and dangerous it should be micro- chipped for identification and be entered into a register.

It should be unlawful for the owner or other person in charge to keep such a vicious or dangerous animal unless such animal is securely confined, bound or adequately leashed in such a manner as to prevent such animal from biting or attacking a person or other animals.

Whenever a vicious or dangerous animal is permitted to run at large within a wall, fence or other structure, it should be the duty of the owner or person in charge of such animal to give public notice or warning that such animal is at large within such enclosure by conspicuous posting of a written or printed notice at every unlocked entrance to such enclosure.

Whenever a vicious or dangerous animal is not properly or securely confined, the Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit may order confinement of the animal until the owner or other person in charge of such animal provides an enclosure that is adequate to confine such animal. Until an enclosure is provided which the Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit determines to be adequate, Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit may order confinement of such animal by such person, organization or agency as the animal Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit shall determine. The cost of feeding and caring for the animal shall be paid by the owner. If the owner of such animal fails to provide an adequate enclosure within specified (30) days, such animal may be disposed of or exterminated in a manner prescribed by the Vicious and Dangerous Animal Unit and SPCA.

A person owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal in the city at such person’s own risk. If a vicious or dangerous animal escapes from its enclosure, confinement or leash or injures any person outside of the enclosure or area of confinement, the owner of such animal should be criminally liable for the actions of such animal.

Notwithstanding the above, dogs still remain man’s best friend. Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the centre of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. All our pets ask of us is to be well fed and well cared for. We owe them at least that for the love, companionship and protection they give us freely every day.

A dog that has caused harm to people still deserves to be treated humanely especially in front of the owners and the public. A public execution of two “vicious” Pit bulls at a private farm near BelaBela, later to be aired on national television news bulletins, is a gross violation of animal welfare. On Monday November 20, 2006, BTV aired, on its two news bulletins, without warning, a disturbing scene of two confined Pit bull dogs barking. A minute later, a white lab coat clad “action man” was shown pointing a short gun at the first one and firing. He repeated the act on the second one. Then two of these dogs were shown, now as corpses, with disgusting sight of blood all over on the kennel floor.

Thereafter, the news crew interviewed a lady police officer. She discouraged people from keeping such dangerous dogs. Then came the white lab coat clad “macho man”. He made a foolish analogy of a cow killing a man being slaughtered. I have no problem with the dogs being killed after maiming. What I’m at loss with is the way it was all done and being aired on national TV.

As a Veterinary Surgeon, I am convinced there are ways in which the whole issue could have been handled. The animals could have been heavily sedated, captured and euthanized humanly out of sight of public eye and owners. I doubt if the gun wielding “marksman” had any professional training on systemic euthanasia. In fact, I doubt if he has animal welfare at heart or whether he considered the security of his “spectators” when he fired those two “fine” shots.

BTV owes the nation an apology for airing such bloody scenes on well-watched news bulletins. BTV news is watched by many people including foreign investors who wish to acquaint themselves with all aspects of Botswana life. Also 7 & 9 o’clock is still early for minors to be in bed. What kind of message is BTV sending to them? Retribution for animals? For BTV to air such horrific clips without prior warning is a crime. The newsreader should have said something to the effect that the pictures you’re about to view may be unpleasant to some viewers…

It shows deficiency on the part of the editorial team. Or does it show that they have no regard for viewers or animal welfare? Would BTV News in the same vein air the execution of condemned inmates?

The Editorial team take a lot of time siphoning through other programmes such as “Matlho a phage”” at the expense of the most important and the well watched programmes such as 7 and 9 O’clock News bulletins.

Botswana is not only bound to be judged by the way it treats its citizenry but also by the compassion we show to our animals. We continuously abuse and mistreat our animals. The cruelty to animal act is a non-starter, as acts of cruelty remain unreported.

*Dr. Jaone J.M. Sebina is a private veterinary surgeon


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