1233 ABC Newcastle By Jeannette McMahon
Charlestown MP and practising vet, Andrew Cornwell, says there are five factors behind dog attacks.
He’s chair of a government taskforce on companion animals which is looking at what changes might be needed to dangerous dog laws in NSW.
But he says any shift in policy won’t be prompted by bad headlines, as he explained to 1233 ABC Newcastle’s Aaron Kearney.
“It’s a really vexed area,” the MP says.
“What’s happened in the past is there’s always been policy made in response to a bad headline, never policy made looking at evidence.”
There have been two high-profile dog attacks in Lake Macquarie that have hit the headlines recently.
An 11-year-old boy was hospitalised after he was mauled at Toronto on the weekend by two Rottweilers which attacked a group of children.
It’s believed they were guard dogs that had escaped from their enclosure.
Both dogs have since been destroyed, and the owner will be fined by Lake Macquarie council.
The council has also launched a prosecution over another incident in May when two American Staffordshire terriers attacked a young woman.
Andrew Cornwell says there are five factors involved in such attacks.
“There are five key things that contribute to a dog attack, there’s failure of early socialisation, failure of later socialisation, genetics, a pre-existing medical condition and victim behaviour,” he says.
“And they’re the five things which we need to influence to try and reduce this from occurring.”
The vet explains that “size counts” when it comes to dog attacks, with a large breed obviously posing a greater threat than a small aggressive dog.
And he says the breed of dog can be a factor as well.
“There are dangerous bloodlines, and some breeds have got an over-representation of dangerous bloodlines within that breed,” he says.
The member for Charlestown says council rangers have told him the current system is too inflexible and doesn’t allow them discretion when classifying a dog as “dangerous”.
This means some dogs that may pose a risk slip through the net because the rangers are reluctant to act.
“My personal view is that there needs to be greater discretionary power for rangers,” Mr Cornwell says.
“Education of the public is critical, because one of those five things we can influence is the victim behaviour issue.”
He says the biggest mistake people make is trying to break up dog fights, sticking their hand in between the dogs.
“The worst injuries that I have seen from dog bites have been hand and arm injuries,” he says.
“Awareness about how to avoid those situations is absolutely critical.”
Mr Cornwell says the taskforce is likely to make a series of recommendations and then ask for public comment.
But the State Opposition has called for the government to immediately introduce a dangerous dog hotline, similar to what exists in Victoria.