Cracker by Damian Christie



She’s a funny old world.

I don’t know whether it’s the desperately predictable nature of the mainstream media, politicians and talkback radio, or that there are only so many different types of events and associate responses, but isn’t there something very Groundhog Day about everything that’s happened since that poor woman was killed by a dog the other day?

Even this very blog has been written before. Read this piece I wrote four years ago.

It’s all there. A vicious dog attack; the media start reporting every time a dog so much as looks sideways at anyone; victims start calling to ban dangerous dogs; politicians of all persuasions make noises. Ironically the one thing that stands out – for me at least – from my 2003 take on the issue is that the Holmes programme is no longer, and I work for the show in its place. And no, there was no poll this time around.

It’s so obvious it almost pains me to point it out – but I will – dog attacks happen every week. Last year Auckland City Council – just Auckland City – reported that figures on dogs attacking or challenging people or other animals dropped 15%, to 553 incidents. Even if only 10% of those were actual attacks on actual people, that’s one a week. Most incidents would normally be ignored by the media, but after a fatal attack, it suddenly becomes necessary to report every single attack as though dogs as a whole have suddenly had it with us humans.

And so we have the case of the lady who was bitten on the face when she leaned over to pat a dog tied up outside the supermarket. I’m not defending the dog’s behaviour in this instance, but did we not learn anything the last time the dogs started revolting? If it ain’t your dog, and the owner hasn’t said it’s okay, don’t pat it. That was certainly the message I took away. Dogs get nervous and defensive. If a stranger approaches it and tries to touch it, it may snap at them. If you face is in the way, expect stitches.

To be fair, they’re hardly unique in this regard. Try walking into a bar and randomly hugging as many people as you can. There’s a reasonable chance you’ll get hurt. This was a particular danger when E hit nightclubs in Auckland the same time as the Headhunters got into dance music. Loved-up punters looking for cuddles in all the wrong places. But I digress...

On the weekend, it was an 8 year old boy in South Auckland, “savaged by Pitbull” according to the over-eager subs at the Herald on Sunday. The father was similarly – although perhaps more understandably – brimming with hyperbole:

He could have died. He received three stitches on his right leg, and there's scratch wounds on his left leg.

Three stitches? Scratch wounds? Shit, I’ve come off worse against a coffee table. Although by the time the Herald picked up the story again on Monday, the dog had apparently come back for revenge – the boy now had “several stitches”.

None of which is to say the dog, which had a history of attacking people, shouldn’t be killed. It should, and it was.

Today it was a Dobermann attacking a woman house-sitting for its owners. The woman in this case needed stitches for puncture wounds. The dog was on its own property, which it was probably be trained to defend. Maybe it had a history of aggressive behaviour, maybe it didn’t. Maybe the owners should have put it in a kennel, maybe they should be charged, maybe the dog should be destroyed.

These are all valid questions, and ones that can be largely dealt with through existing laws? We don’t need tougher laws, if anything they just need to be enforced. Are you at all surprised when you read the sentence “the dog was not registered or microchipped”?

As long as we have dogs, we’ll have dog attacks. Just like cars and car accidents, alcohol and teen pregnancy, coffee tables and scars on your toddlers’ chins. What we need to realise is – with the exception of the occasional tragic fatality – these events are commonplace. It’s a fact that seems to have eluded the writer of this editorial in the Herald on Sunday:

But the real surprise, of course, is that such attacks don't happen more often than they do.

What, more than 553 times a year in Auckland City? More than 100 times in Wellington? What kind of Cujo-esque rampage were you hoping for?

It’s not the dogs I’m sick of here, or their sometimes negligent owners. I’m sick of elements of the media trying to create panic simply by choosing to report everyday events which normally wouldn't raise an editorial eyebrow. And on that note – but for different reasons, clearly – I find one thing to agree with in the HOS editorial:

In the wake of two dog attacks, one fatal, in less than a week, we might all be forgiven for sighing and saying "What, again?"

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