Current legislation to minimise dog bites and dog bite fatalities is not fit for purpose but the State has none of the data required to overhaul it effectively, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
The current legislation to minimise dog bites and deaths is centred on a list of restricted breeds, and a requirement that dogs of these breeds, or breed mixes, must be muzzled, on a leash, and only handled by a person over 16-years-old while in public.
Nanci Creedon, a canine behaviour expert, addressed the joint committee on agriculture, food and the marine on the subject of dangerous dog breeds and sheep worrying on Wednesday evening.
Ms Creedon referenced the death of four-month-old Mia O’Connell who was killed by a dachshund-terrier cross after it pulled the infant from her basket in Waterford in 2021, as well as the death of seven-year-old Glen Murphy after he was attacked by rottweilers in a house in Dublin in 2020.
She further referenced the death of Teresa McDonagh, who was killed by a dog attack in Galway in June 2017. The attack occurred on the grounds of her son’s property where the bull-mastiff dogs were kept.
“The Control of Dogs Act was not breached in either of our three recorded fatalities, nor did it save their lives,” she said.
“I am passionate about dog bite prevention, and about minimising the likelihood of fatal or life changing dog attacks happening to members of the public, and to do so, I strongly believe that legislation needs to change.
“Why did these attacks happen, and how do we minimise the risk of them reoccurring? The most critical information to both of those questions cannot be answered. Why? No data.
“When a serious dog attack occurs, the dog wardens seize the dog, the victims receive medical treatment, the dog is euthanised, and everything is swept under the rug.
“I believe that before any legislation changes, we first need to appoint a Dog Bite Prevention Organisation that will appoint members to investigate the events of serious and fatal dog attacks.”
She said this organisation would assess the dog prior to euthanasia, and begin to build a picture of the characteristics of serious dog bites, with the intention to then use solid data to build more appropriate legislation.
She said aggressive behaviour in dogs “could almost always have been avoided” if the dogs’ owners had a better understanding of dog behaviour, as well as how to manage their dogs’ environment and handling to minimise the risks.
“The internet and social media is filled with incorrect, unscientific, and sometimes dangerous dog behaviour and training advice, to which the dog owning public are turning to for lack of State-directed advice and education,” she said.
“Education can be implemented in a variety of ways. In my opinion the most effective method of owner education would be to legislate for it to be mandatory to pass a theory test prior to obtaining a dog licence.
“Dog owners should have to be educated to a competent level before taking control of a dog that can cause harm if cared for the wrong way.”
She added that the Dog Bite Prevention Organisation would oversee State-run educational campaigns to both young children and through websites and media.
“The Dog Bite Prevention Organisation would be appointed to investigate reports of aggressive dogs, providing the public with a go-to body to report incidents to, and in turn then gather data to generate annual reports on a realistic picture of what is happening across Ireland in relation to dog bites, and aggressive behaviours,” she said.