Are some dogs dangerous or are their owners to blame?

8:44 pm on 11 April 2016

South Auckland residents are at odds on what's needed to stop dog attacks, after what is thought to be the fourth attack on a child in four months.

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A seven-year-old Auckland boy needed 100 stitches to his face after he was mauled by his uncle's pit bull terrier on Saturday.

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Otara local Maraea Howe said she believed pit bulls had dangerous instincts and should be banned.

"I'm totally scared of them. Whenever I see one, I'm really cautious, so yeah I shouldn't have to walk down the road and be like that, be put in that position.

"Even if they're on a leash or something - because they could easily come off from their owner and attack. I think the animal's got that instinct in them in the first place so it doesn't matter how well, because at any time it could kick in and it could attack.

"Even if it's the loveliest dog for the last five or six years, it's still got that animal instinct."

She said some young men in the area saw owning powerful pit bull cross-breeds as a symbol of status.

One South Auckland school principal, who asked not to be identified, said the school had spoken to students about the threat of dog attacks.

The school had built a large fence in part to keep that dogs in the area off school grounds, the principal said.

"The children are terrified."

The number of Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) dog bite claims across all breeds has doubled since 2006, from almost 6000 to over 12,000 last year.

Last year, those claims cost the taxpayer about $4.5 million.

View data tables and graphs on dog bite claims and prosecutions in New Zealand

Another Otara resident, Sanga Tomasi, said dogs roaming the streets were a danger to her three children and needed to be locked up.

"My street's got heaps of dogs running around and my kids play outside so I have to keep them in my house, inside my property, because the dogs, some of them are dangerous. That is my biggest fear."

'It's how people raise their dogs'

However, local tertiary student Stephen De Joger disagreed that the dogs themselves were a problem. He said they were a popular breed in the area and had a bad reputation but owners were the ones that needed to be held responsible.

"I think it predominantly is owner-based. I don't think it's a problem with the dogs per se," he said.

"I used to have a bull mastiff and that's technically a vicious breed, but it's how people raise their dog, that's the problem.

"I think there needs to be sort of a change of attitude toward - not, a dog is sort of a right but basically a privilege that you have."

He had never had any issues with his bull mastiff but it was a breed people could make aggressive, he said.

"If they're raised badly then they're going to be vicious, and if they're raised well then they're going to be a good dog."

Manurewa resident Lee Simpson said she walked her two pitbull crosses for an hour and a half every day.

She was wary of them when she first got them but said they were great, loving dogs.

"I'm aware, she's got pitbull in her so you must be aware. If you've got visitors or anything, you must be around. I've got two small children, if they've got friends around we're always aware.

"Mind you, our dogs are not aggressive because I take them for walks every day. I treat them like humans.

"I think the other dogs that attack, they're just left. I really think it's the way you bring them up."

She agreed many thought it was cool to have a pitbull at the gate and they appealed to 'macho types'.

"I think it's an accessory for a lot of a certain type of people but they're not putting their energy into these types of dogs. These types of dogs need exercise and they need to release their aggression. All dogs need attention, otherwise don't have them."

Banning dogs not the answer - SPCA

Auckland councillor for Manurewa-Papakura Calum Penrose said there had been four pitbull dog attacks on children in South Auckland in the last month alone, and the breed should be banned.

However, Auckland SPCA CEO Andrea Midgeon said banning dogs wasn't the answer.

"It's about making sure that the animals are desexed, making sure that people that own these types of dogs that can do a lot of damage understand the behavioural traits of their dogs - understand how to manage that and understand the risks when they've got vulnerable people around that animal."

Associate Local Government Minister Louise Upston did not return calls for comment.

The seven-year-old boy attacked last weekend had surgery on Saturday night, and remained in a stable condition in Middlemore Hospital.

The council said it was holding the dog in a local shelter while it investigated the attack.

Meanwhile, Christchurch City Council is investigating a dog attack last week on a 72-year-old woman. The woman received serious injuries to her leg, which required surgery.

The breed of dog involved in the Christchurch attack was unknown.

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