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Eddie Mair | 17:23 UK time, Tuesday, 1 January 2008

You heard our interview with Sylvia Van Atta from 'Many Tears Rescue' in Llanelli .....what do you think?


  1. At 05:30 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Sid Cumberland wrote:

    How good it was to hear someone who knows about dogs putting responsibility on their owners - where it belongs. Of course they should inform themselves about how to look after these animals before they buy one. It's just bad luck on the dogs that the best an expert like Sylvia Van Atta can advise is: you shouldn't have got one in the first place.


  2. At 05:33 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Richard in Liverpool wrote:

    I think we should be actively encouraging people to have these dogs put down, not criticise them for being irresponsible for buying them in the first place. Why do people need to own them at all? These dogs are clearly dangerous and behave unpredictably around children and, sometimes, around adults as well.

  3. At 05:37 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    I very much hope that none of these rottweillers that people think cannot be safely kept in places where there are children won't turn out to be as 'reliable' as the dog that recently tore off a rescue centre worker's arm, having shown no signs of aggression before it turned on her.

    Dogs this big are really not needed in most situations, and certainly shouldn't be kept in small yards and treated as 'guards' unless the person keeping them really knows what s/he is doing when looking after a dog -- and even training for both dog and owner doesn't necessarily make the owner safe from the dog, let alone anyone else being safe. We have done away with dog-licences, but perhaps dog-keeper licences, with proper qualification requirements, might be a good idea for anyone wanting to keep a dog over a certain height or weight or both? That wouldn't solve the problem (even a corgi can give a very nsty mauling to a child) but it would at least mean that onlookers had some chance of stopping a badly- or untrained dog from killing a child because its sheer bulk is impossible to control.

  4. At 05:41 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Sally Nolan wrote:

    At last you've actually interviewed someone with common sense such as Sylvia van Atta with regard to dog - any dog - ownership. I am a rottweiler owner - and am appalled how these and other large intelligent dogs fall into the wrong hands.

  5. At 05:46 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Roland Baker wrote:

    Is it too much to ask that a dog "purchaser" take all the risks into account?

    Buy a dog. Pay vets' bills. Whether you pay vets' bills or not, how big is the dog compared to your children? Is your dog more important than your children or a substitute for your children, or just a means of killing your children?

    Can you afford a dog and children? The late Ellie Lawrenson may have thought not.

  6. At 05:47 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Al in Gloucestershire wrote:

    Did you let her off answering what should be done now about an unwanted dog?

  7. At 05:57 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Rob Daneski wrote:

    I fully endorse Sylia Van Attas comments on what having a dog is all about.Surely having a happy and loved pet around the house is why most people have a dog.I've never really understood why owning a large animal with a capability to cause terrible harm is not viewed with more concern.
    Neutering should be compulsory for guard dogs living in families with children and I'd even go so far as to recommend removing the teeth of those breeds which are knwn to attack without warning.I know that sounds alarming but I've owned a dog, albeit a smaller breed,whose teeth fell out and didn't suffer at all as most dogfood is prepared and quite soft.

  8. At 05:57 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Sarah Hembrough wrote:

    What good sense was spoken by the lady from the dog sanctuary. Every time there is one of these attacks there is a knee jerk reaction from the public and MP's. Any dog can bite - it is ridiculous to pick on one breed.

    The main problem is irresponsible owners who have neither the knowledge nor the facilities to keep dogs. No doubt this poor dog had a hell of a life. It was probably expected to be some sort of macho accessory and guard dog - and yet also romp around with children - is it surprising it was confused? I doubt whethere it was ever taken to socialisation or obedience classes or given the exercise and stimulation necessary for a large and intelligent dog. What was certain is that it never had any love from its owners or they could not have so readily dumped it. My heart goes out to those poor dogs who have to suffer the terrible consequences of these stupid people.

  9. At 05:59 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Mike Wilson wrote:

    Whilst reluctant to say that the death of a child is a lot of fuss about nothing, it is worth remembering that children are killed regularly in this country. It is only when one child is killed by a dog that the media are stirred to fury, as with the 5 or 6/year killed by paedophiles (half the number of a generation ago). The real threat to children is from their carers, be they parents, step parents or whatever. Some 200 die anually, and largely unreported, in their homes.

    As a dog owner I have to agree entirely with Sylvia van Atta except to say that castration/speying is not always necessary. My exceptionally gentle border collie, with centuries of breeding behind his non-agressive traits, does not need it. On the other hand, even a border collie, if badly or inconsiderately brought up, could pose a potential threat - just like a child!

  10. At 06:32 PM on 01 Jan 2008, steve wrote:

    The advice to have all dogs neutered is madness.
    In ten- twelve years there would be no dogs.
    How about neutering the owners instead. Or better still everyone who reckons to be an 'expert'.
    I have a dog, he has all his kit, he is a gun dog, he works to the gun. He is less harmful than all adult humans, unless you really cannot tolerate being licked to death. He is at sud from time to time. He keeps his kit Sylvia!

  11. At 06:41 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Angela Hogan wrote:

    It is a great pity that Miss van Atta did not comment on the way these cases are reported by the media. News bulletins on Radio 4 repeatedly referred to a dog who attacked a baby recently as a "pet dog", yet I understand it was kept outside in a yard with little opportunity for proper socialisation or training. It was in effect treated simply as a guard dog and not as a family companion. A guard dog is often expected and encouraged to be aggressive.
    Public reaction is generated by the media reports. People often panic after hearing these items and needlessly hand in their dog - often for destruction. It is always the dogs who suffer after these tragic events, yet irresponsible ownership and misleading reporting are the real culprits. Hundreds of rescues throughout the country are struggling to cope with the results of such ignorance and unnecessary panic.

  12. At 07:39 PM on 01 Jan 2008, juanita wrote:

    It was good to hear someone talking sensibly about the keeping of dogs as pets. Why has it taken so long for Radio 4 to report this viewpoint? Perhaps the ridiculous names of such organisations encourage one to think that they are not to be trusted or even listened to.

    Mind you, Eddie you did let her get away with a very vague 'blame the owners' spiel. Surely there's mileage in exploring what could be done to solve this issue. Surely this doesn't only happen in the UK, etc, etc.

    Your interview provoked more questions than it answered.

  13. At 09:59 PM on 01 Jan 2008, Helena Lane wrote:

    I agree with Sheila Van Atta's comments about the absolute necessity of people conducting research into a breed of dog before purchasing.

    I also agree on the necessity of socialisation and training of all breeds whether a Chihuahua or Rottweiler. Bad owners have bad dogs. Responsibility is the key and there are always training opportunities available. Dogs have teeth - they bite! They must be taught to control their bite.

    However I totally disagree with Mrs Van Atta's assertion that neutering of any dog will solve the problem of dominance or, that dominance is the cause of attacks. Behaviourists, nowadays on the whole agree that neutering dogs is not necessarily an answer.

    Mrs Van Atta seemed to be saying that only dominant males attack. What about dominant females? They are often more aggressive than the males and particularly in some breeds.

  14. At 01:47 AM on 02 Jan 2008, jonnie wrote:

    As with rearing children, the owners have to take responsibility.

    Many years ago my parents adopted a Rottweiler that had been badly treated. She subsequently tore half the arm off an unsuspecting visitor.

    Our own mini- shcnauzer (Rupert) is the most well behaved little chap you could ever wish to meet. Totally trustworthy and predictable.

    There may well be a predisposition within breeds but it's mostly down to how the dogs are reared from puppies.

  15. At 02:12 AM on 02 Jan 2008, mummifiedartist wrote:

    What a change to hear sensible comments being made about another terrible tragedy. A tragedy for the child who died and the family but a tragedy for the dog as well. Tragic that it was owned by people who didn't train or treat it properly.
    Too often so-called macho dogs are owned for their perceived enhancement of the owner's status. Size is not an issue, I've owned several Irish Wolfhounds. They were taken to obedience classes and taught that humans are the pack leaders. I also owned a speyed mongrel bitch who was extremely dominant. A rescue dog, with unknown history, she refused all efforts (including expert's) to stop her attacking other dogs but she was never a threat to humans.
    I know personally of dogs considered 'pets' by their owners but are really tragedies waiting to happen.
    Bring back licensing and insist on obedience training, at least for new owners. Breeders should also shoulder some responsibility since some are tempted to breed for looks ( or money) and seldom consider temperament when selecting mates.

  16. At 01:47 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Ed Iglehart wrote:

    Fellow animal lovers,

    Our pets, from vicious dogs to humble hamsters, eat better and enjoy better medical care and general conditions of life than probably half the humans in this overcrowded world.

    Nuff said?

    Happy New Year to one and all


    P.S. I'm guilty of donating a half tonne of perfectly good food to my local wild birds and squirrels, and most of it is probably imported as well ;-(

    People are like onions -- you cut them up, and they make you cry.

  17. At 02:36 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    There are times when one is absolutely sure it is the owner's fault even if it is the dog's fault as well...

    When my son was a toddler, we had a dog: a dalmatian, a bit scatty as they tend to be but with a loving temperament even if he sometimes got it a bit wrong and tried for example to defend the baby from intruders by not wanting anyone at all to go upstairs if the boy was asleep. The child was used to dogs, therefore, and unafraid of them.

    We took the dog out every day for its walk on the local parkland. On one particular day, we encountered a charming labrador bitch and her owner, and the two dogs were romping around together until suddenly the labrador turned to one side, snatched my toddler by his shoulder and started to shake and bite at him. The dalmatian was terrified by her growling and snarling, and ran away.

    I discovered, slightly to my surprise, that I *could* grab a 50-pound-plus dog by the scruff of the neck and hold it at arms' length, yelling in fury. The bitch dropped the child, and I said, as politely as possible, 'I think this dog ought to be kept on a lead from now on if it is in a public place' or some similar attempt to make me feel that I didn't want to kill it. (Well, I did want to kill it, but that is another matter.)

    So help me, the owner than said, 'Oh I'm *so* sorry, is your little boy all right? WE THOUGHT SHE'D STOPPED DOING THAT.'

    I am still wondering, more than twenty years later, what a suitable treatment would be for a stupid woman who allows a dog with a history of attacking toddlers for no reason -- this was apparently the third time it had happened -- to continue to associate with toddlers, giving no warning to the parents, not taking the dog to classes, and not keeping it in any way restrained. I was so dumbfounded at the time that I heard all this and *didn't* throw her and her dog off the very nearby and convenient cliff to get them both out of their gene-pools, but I still mutter occasionally about 'something lingering with boiling oil in it, I fancy' when I am reminded of such mind-boggling behaviour. She put the bitch on the lead and rushed away before I got round to finding out who they were properly, because I was too busy making sure my son really was unharmed -- something she didn't wait to find out.

    The upside is that my son *was* unharmed, though shaken, and ran for protection towards his own beloved dalmatian, whom he then clung to for comfort. In the long run I think I was probably more upset than he was by the incident, which he doesn't remember thank goodness: he certainly hasn't ever shown unthinking fear of dogs since. Even so...

  18. At 03:01 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Poverty wrote:

    Dogs are no worse than human beings.

    Would you recommend all the perpetrators of the knifings and other killings we've had over the last year to be "put down"? No, of course you wouldn't.

    In both species it is a matter of upbringing - how do you think you would react if, as a child, you had spent your life outside in a small yard. You wouldn't trust anyone after that for a very long while. So don't blame the poor animal.

    I think an answer would be to re-introduce dog licences - at a high price with high penalties for owning a dog without one.

    We've had eight dogs over the last fifty years, five of them large (3 feet from top of head to toe) and they've all been very loving companions, but what they would have done to a burglar I don't know - they would have only been protecting us.

  19. At 03:55 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Sorry, I missed the interview, it sounded good.

    As a vet, I see a large number of people with large breed dogs, some kept as family pets and some as working or guard dogs. A veterinary surgery is quite a good 'test' as to whether a dog may show aggressive tendencies as it tends to be somewhere where dogs feal fearful.

    In my experience, many dogs can potentially become aggressive given an extremely painful or fearful experience, but some breeds are definitely worse than others and by far the worst situations are caused by owners who do not take their pets seriously and recognise the risk.

    A dog does not have to have been treated *badly* in order to show aggression, nor does it have to have been trained to be aggressive.

    In my area, there is a fashion to have large breed dogs as family pets (and sometimes status symbols). The banning of Pit Bull terriers, Dogo Argentino, Fila Braziliero and the Japanese Tosa by the Dangerous Dogs Act is laughable. There has not only been continued breeding of Pit Bull terrier types, but other large breeds similar to the banned breeds have simply gained popularity, such as the Presa Canaria and Mastiff/American Bulldog crosses (Try googling these breeds and seeing if you can tell the difference between the banned breeds and these).

    These are all powerful, athletic dogs which may weigh 50-70kg and have jaws which can crush the ribcages of cats and smaller dogs. Yet we keep them alongside toddlers as family pets. Is it surprising that there are fatalities?

    Rottweliers have been in the news many times for seriously injuring adults and killing children and yet these were not incuded in the banned breeds in the Dangerous Dogs Act - was this just because it would have been too unpopular?

    We need a law - and actual proper enforcement of it - which will put the responsibility firmly with the registered owner of a dog. I think the re-introduction of licensing may be the only way to do this. We already insist on microchipping for any dog travelling abroad, why not make it law for all dogs?

    Perhaps this may also eventually reduce the unpleasant - and unseen - aspect of all this which is the number of stray dogs being euthanased each week after being picked up on the streets either injured, or being abandoned because they are ill or unwell. I know, I have to put some of them to sleep. It's not nice.

    Apologies if this post is upsetting to people.

  20. At 04:51 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Poverty wrote:

    As an addendum to my previous message (19), I think that a re-introduction of dog licensing would not only help to keep the number of irresponsible owners down, but it might also help to reduce the terrible cruelty that far too many humans inflict on animals these days.

    Expensive licenses and heavy fines are preferable to "putting down" the owners!!

    When you intend getting a dog from a rescue home, it is common practice for the home to vet you in some way for suitability. It would be a good idea if all sellers of pets could be made to perform the same procedure, but what a forlorn and probably impracticable hope.

  21. At 08:42 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Helena Lane wrote:

    Some people including the vet feel that licensing is the answer but it would be difficult to enforce. After all people who are irresponsible with their dogs might also be irresponsible in purchasing a license. For many years we did have dog licenses but I am sure that there were many who didn't bother to buy one.

    Northern Ireland brought in a licensing system in response to several reports of dog biting incidents. This resulted in an increase in the number of strays which would seem that people were turfing their dogs out rather than pay up. Nor, I believe did it result in a cessation of incidents of attacks.

    Perhaps people should have to produce a certificate of responsibility when purchasing a dog? I wonder if this would work?

    I do think that there must be breeders of dogs who sell to just anyone prepared to pay the price. These breeders are as irresponsible as the owners!

  22. At 11:52 PM on 02 Jan 2008, Gossipmistress wrote:

    Helena (21) I take your point re licensing but if done alongside microchipping it would be far more effective. Re people turfing their dogs out - this already happens when there is a local crackdown on banned breeds, unfortunately.

    If you are issuing a certificate of responsibility, why not call it a licence? Irresponsible breeders would probably still carry on anyway though - many are still docking puppies illegally 8 months after the ban.

  23. At 11:49 PM on 04 Jan 2008, Chris Ghoti wrote:

    A question:

    I read or hear on the news occasionally that someone has so badly mistreated an animal that s/he gets taken to court and 'banned from keeping an animal for months/years/life'. Well, good, but

    How is this ban enforced?

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