Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Good, the Dog and the Ugly

We have draconian dog laws. Dog on an empty beach at 7am with their responsible owner is fined more than parking in a pedestrian crossing in school zone! It does not make sense and such a fine does not take into account the REAL risk or public nuisance factor.

Barking Mad has been researching for our public transport briefing/policy document. Are pets a public health risk; and if so, how? What about allergies, and how important it is to consider this with pets on public transport and in public spaces? I prefer logic to rhetoric, though the latter (think talk-back radio, MirandaNotDevine, media that makes an emergency out of everything) gets much more airplay. Often that rhetoric turns into public policy, and that is good for no-one in the long term.

I've had this data to hand for some time, and with hesitation, I now put it out to you, the reader. A child is at a greater risk of harm from their parent than from a dog. More children die at the hand of their parent than by a dog each year; a tragic but politically repulsive fact.

Each year about 300 Australian children (aged 0-14 years) are killed and 60,000 hospitalised by unintentional injuries (accidents). 75% of these come from just four causes: car crashes, pedestrian accidents, drowning and house fires. (Children under 5 and the elderly are at the greatest risk from a dog related injury, so appropriate measures are still required).

If we followed the numbers about risk logically we would ban the car, ban walking where we have cars, ban swimming pools and access to the ocean and water if we want to keep our children immune from risk. Although we have fenced most of our rail tracks in urban areas, we have yet to fence around every other risk. Logic is not the main driver of legislation.

Death resulting from dog-related injury is a rare event. During the seven year period 1997–2003, 11 deaths were registered as being due to this cause.

Reports on the number of lives saved, such as a relatively common event of a dog alerting an owner to the presence of a venomous snake, or barking at an intruder would be useful for comparison, but this data is not available. The story of a dog protecting a child from an Eastern Brown Snake can be found here and a similar story of a dog and an adult here.

It is important to consider the public health risks of pets, dogs in particular, in context. The media has been the dog’s worse enemy, creating public outcry that some short-sighted politicians have responded to with poorly thought out laws. Consider:

Abuse, Crime
  • 6 people are killed, by people, each week – a total of 319 in 2006
  • 465 people are assaulted by people each day; that’s 171,000 in 2006
  • 50 people are sexually assaulted every day; 18,211 a year.
  • 331 people are violently robbed each and every week
  • In 2006, there were 207,446 incidents of violent crime, over 550 each day.


  • 1616 people died on our roads in 2007 including 41 cyclists and 201 pedestrians. That is more than 4 deaths for each day of a year.


  • There are 1000 heat-related deaths a year.
  • 400 people die a year from Asthma and in W.A. the Premier claimed that 150 people die a year while waiting for a hospital bed!
  • In the most recent data, 134 babies died a year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Manage the public health risks of pets in context. The media has been the dog’s worse enemy, creating public outcry that some short-sighted politicians have responded to with poorly thought out laws.


Anonymous said...

Another point to consider is how my dog saved my life as without him I would have killed myself and was on a fast track to doing so before he was given to many other people have similar stories? I know of a few but in particular one instance where having a dog has turned the life of a man around from drug abuse, alcoholism and a trajectory of self destruction including criminal activity that was a major problem for the community where he lived, also suicidal ideations, who now lives a rich and full life including taking up volunteer work to help the elderly and disabled. In his words "if it wasn't for this boofhead dog I would be either dead or likely in prison for killing someone else". Need anymore be said in terms of the benefits of dogs? There really isn't a modicum of any sense of proportionality in the laws controlling dogs in this country and such details are never in the debate as the irrational anti-dog factions are willfully ignorant of the plight of others as they are quintessentially selfish and derive their social legitimacy through feeling above or better than people less fortunate than themselves rather than doing something positive and beneficial for others. Pathalogically individualist, if you like.

Ted said...

Anonymous, Assistance Dogs are allowed on public transport already.

Kane said...

Ted, Who is talking about assistance dogs...these were both pets and still are. Benefits being overlooked was the gist of my post not the pedantry of over regulated Australia and its "rule knowing public". Don'tknowif you look at dogs on line but that is the arena for the "who can who can't" debates that rage endlessly and asI said in my earlier post they like policy makers ignore the realities around them as "they know the rules" as if that is someohow meaningful.

Ted said...

Kane, it sounded like "Anonymous" (was that you?) was perhaps describing a type of service dog/assistance dog for people who are disabled by mental problems (you described suicidal ideations.) And yes, if you are Lab Lad, I have seen your posts on Dogz Online.

Flix said...

There is another point that dog owners miss when it comes to allowing their dogs run free in parks, beaches etc. Small dogs aren't a threat, it's the large agressive dogs that are a risk to humans and to a greater extent to small dogs. There's no way I would allow my little Maltese cross to run off the lead when there are large dogs around as many of the larger breeds see little dogs as food

Flix said...

Many of us like to romanticise about how our little friends saved us from suicide.In the cold light of rational thought we are having ourselves on. Most of us would have found another reason to stay alive.

Edith said...

Flix,Do you call yourself a dog lover? It rather sounds like you are a lover of small dogs only. Any untrained and/or aggressive dog is a liability regardless of its size. Small dogs can be just as aggressive, threatening and nasty as their large counterparts. My German Shepherd plays nicely with many other small dogs, including my mum's Dachshund. I have always loved dogs and have owned quite a few different breeds .Personally I have found that the GSD is one of the most loyal and best companions that a human could have, but I also respect that everyone has a different idea of the perfect dog.Love dogs? Love them all!Edith

Eedra at Barking Mad said...

In regards to the "I don't want my little dog playing where there are big dogs", I think it is a view we have to accept and respect. Barking Mad has heard it from our own members.

The answer is outside the square (or the dog park.) We need ENOUGH open space to accommodate our needs as dog owners. When we pack a lot of dogs into one dog park, or one dog beach, we limit the options for the owners.

Personally, I've seen the most aggression (doggie aggression, meaning I don't like you NOT I'm going to eat you), when one dog is on a lead and the other isn't.

In fact just last Sunday I was walking along the off-leash beach with Pema on a lead as I wanted to rest her leg because she is still recovering from surgery. A dog she had previously been playing with happily came over and tackled her and pinned her down. She was submissive and it was no drama. But some people came up to me later and said how awful that was and they 'hated' the type of dog that pinned Pema.

I told them it wasn't a drama - it was doggie communication. As soon as the other dog got bored with pinning Pema I let her off the lead and they had their sniffs, a short run and left each others' company.

The DRAMA was the lack of knowledge of what really was happening by people observed one interaction without knowing all the facts. THAT sort of thinking hurts all dog owners.

They are DOGS - and they cause a hell of a lot less harm than humans do to other humans and to the environment. And yes, some are untrained, poorly bred, mistreated or not socialised.