Leah Panapa: Dog owners need to do their part in preventing attacks

Opinion 15/02/2019
Photo: Unsplash.

By Leah Panapa, Magic Nights host

OPINION: Every time I see headlines about someone that has been bitten by a dog, my heart sinks a little. Pictures of a bloodied wee child would make the staunchest dog lover feel anger.

But I also feel compelled to defend our canine companions as there are many ways to avoid these horrific attacks and, sadly, the basics are sometimes forgotten.

Of course certain breeds have been identified as being of high risk and indeed any dog can be classified as menacing under the Dog Control Act 1996. However, in many cases, the offender isn't a rogue pitbull roaming the streets - but rather a family or neighbour's dog.

Case in point: We have very good friends with two beautiful, rambunctious boys set to 'full speed' in everything they do. Our two well-adjusted, socialised dogs are very friendly but become nervous around such energy, so we very rarely have the boys over to our place. It may sound a bit extreme, but until they are old enough to understand that 'don't chase the dogs' means 'DON'T chase the dogs', I am not willing to risk having one of my dogs cornered and then the worst could happen. Do I think my dogs could bite someone? Of course I do! Any stressed or scared animal will defend itself.

And it's not just at our house. Every day in the park I must be alert when I walk them. I would love all children to not be scared of dogs and feel confident around them, but I've noticed parents typically fall into three distinct categories.

The first type scoops the kid up as if I am walking a nuclear bomb (which instils fear in the child).The second type doesn't even watch as their child runs at full speed towards my dogs squealing wanting a pat. And the last type will ask first if their child can pat the dogs.  Number three of course is the winner! I will either politely decline, depending on the age of the child and their energy or say 'yes' to which I really enjoy teaching the kids how to approach a dog quietly and with slow movements.

Last week I read the sad story of a wee girl in Christchurch who was badly bitten by a friend's dog and, unsurprisingly, the mother wants the dog destroyed. Meanwhile, the owner has defended her dog, citing that she has children of her own and the dog has never done anything like this. These are the stories that get repeated around the country all too often.

While there are those that should never ever own a dog, and breeds that are by nature can be aggressive or unpredictable, it is us, their guardians that have to do all that is possible to educate ourselves and those around us on how to be safe around them.

Leah Panapa is host of Magic Nights, weekdays from 7-11pm.