Helen Martin: Dog owning’s no walk in the park

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I DON’T like demonising any kind of dog but Japanese Akitas do require experienced handling because of their breed tendencies.

In the space of one week in the Lothians, one Akita savaged a cat while another broke free from its lead and attacked a 16-year-old collie – the doggy equivalent of a big strong man launching an unprovoked attack on a 90-year-old lady.

Apparently, according to the police and council, because the victim was just another dog, no crime was committed and no action taken or special orders made.

There may be extenuating circumstances in this case that we don’t know about but such incidents seem to show up how confused we are about “man’s best friend” and the responsibilities of ownership.

I’m fastidious about picking up my dog’s poo and agree that failing to do so is a punishable offence carrying a fine. But I’m bewildered that if I was out of control of my dog to such an extent that it mauls another person’s pet, no offence has taken place. Yet had the victim been a sheep on farmland, the farmer would be entitled to shoot the dog dead.

Dogs are like people. Some are gentle and some are vicious. Just like us, most are products of the way they have been treated and raised – and the way they are allowed to behave.

And just like us, stitching them up, treating their shock and putting them back together after an attack costs a lot of money – and with no NHS for animals that means an emergency vet bill of hundreds or thousands of pounds. It’s only logical the owner of the attacking dog should pay.

Our new dog, a greyhound straight from the track like the last one, was muzzled for his first two weeks with us when he was out for a walk or in the house with the cat – even though he hadn’t shown any interest in going for it. It was for his protection as well as the cat’s and that of other dogs he might meet, let alone that we had to establish he was safe around people and 
especially children.

Yet I know of one woman who refused to muzzle her dog which had proved itself to be aggressive even on vets’ instructions, because she thought it was “cruel”.

Dogs sometimes growl at each other, they might even nip each other from time to time, but an unwarranted mauling is something else. And when anything happens, whether it’s poop left on the pavement, a slipper ripped to pieces or an attack on a child or another animal – be it a pet or agricultural livestock – the only one to blame is the owner.

Our relationship with dogs is very complex. We have guide dogs, hearing dogs, personal assistance dogs, racing dogs, farm dogs, hunting dogs, guard dogs, sniffer dogs, police dogs as well as pet dogs. So the laws that govern their welfare, their behaviour and our responsibility towards them and others has to be detailed enough to reflect and include these complexities.

Perhaps we need different types of registration or licensing depending on whether it’s a working dog or a “member of the family” living in close proximity to neighbours and their pets. Mere microchipping is a help but not enough. Nor is it enough to accept that aggressive, attacking dogs of any size can be unmuzzled just because they haven’t – yet – attacked a human.

Gordon Brown silence is deafening

IT was Gordon Brown who famously strode across pre-referendum stages in Scotland pledging nothing less than Home Rule and the closest thing to federalism, insisting he would ensure those promises were kept.

No-one would have believed any of that coming from Cameron, Miliband or Clegg. But Brown was “weel kent”, home-grown and a son of the Manse.

Either he was being used as a patsy, or blatantly lying. If the former had been the case he should be screaming “betrayal” from the rooftops and defending his intentions towards Scotland and its people. Despite his interference in English votes for English laws, his silence over that vow says it all.

Basic medicine not too costly

Mrs Johnson of Bellevue didn’t agree with my point that too many people expect over-the-counter paracetamol on prescription, and suggested that I “may be lucky to have good health”.

Bring out the violins: breast cancer, mastectomy, followed by five years of cancer drugs before ’scripts were free; 20 years of severe and still unresolved back and arm pain; arthritis; a compressed disc; regular sinusitis at worst lasting six months. None of it terminal, all of it tolerable, but not exactly “good health”.

Though serious pain requires prescription-only drugs, my GP has often recommended the ibuprofen-paracetamol cocktail for mild pain but has never offered, and nor have I asked for, a prescription, which would cost me nothing but the NHS £4.04! I can buy a box of 16 paracetamol for 23p in Tesco.

For the poor or housebound who need copious quantities, free paracetamol may be a worthwhile NHS expense. The rest of us should be happy to pay.