Calls for review of dog control laws after fatal mauling

Ireland has four times rate of dog bite hospitalisations compared to the Netherlands

Calls for a complete review of Ireland’s control of dogs legislation have been made following the death of a woman in Moycullen, Co Galway, at the weekend.

Teresa McDonagh died after being set upon by two dogs, described as bull mastiffs, as she attempted to visit a relative.

The death has prompted the Social Democrats to call for a root-and-branch review of the 20-year-old control of dogs legislation, focusing on owners as well as dogs and avoiding a blanket ban on some breeds.

The party’s Galway representative, Niall Ó Tuathail, said the rate of hospitalisations in Ireland from dog bites has been rising rapidly in recent years. This indicated that existing restrictions – which involve rules that some breeds such as pit bull terriers should be kept on a lead in public – were not working, he said.

“Ireland has almost four times the rate of dog bite hospitalisations compared to the Netherlands. This unfortunately makes fatalities more and more likely.”

Mr Ó Tuathail referred to research by NUIG academic Dr Páraic Ó Súilleabháin which showed other countries adopt a “wider” approach to the problem.

Dr Ó Súilleabháin reiterated the call for a complete review of control of dogs legislation and said that in the United States and Europe people were moving away from breed-targeted restrictions. “This is because there is evidence to show that dog breed is not a factor in what caused dogs to attack.”


Dr Ó Súilleabháin said there was substantial peer-review research available that showed any type of dog could show aggression. The animal’s behaviour and training were closely connected with the behaviour of their owners.

However, he did not think a law requiring owner and dog training to be undertaken before a dog licence was issued was a good idea. Instead, he called for measures to create a community where dog owners would act responsibly and where those who did not educate themselves and train their dogs would be targeted by enforcement officers.

He said it should be possible for an individual to report a dog behaving aggressively, leading to a visit from a dog warden who could order the owner and animal to undertake education and training. The media had some responsibility in creating misguided calls for a ban on specific breeds, when a dog mauls someone, he added.

Bite casualties: By the numbers

The number of people hospitalised for dog bites rose by 50 per cent between 1998 and 2013 and the incidence of such cases in Ireland is much higher than in other European countries.

A research paper published in the Veterinary Journal says current legislation controlling dangerous breeds is not only ineffective in reducing such hospitalisations but could be making the problem worse.

Report author Dr Ó Súilleabháin, at the school of psychology at NUI Galway, cites international evidence showing education and legislation working better than banning breeds.

The report said an education programme for children is warranted and should adhere to science-based principles.

The study shows the number of people hospitalised with dog bites per 100,000 population jumped from 4.65 in 1998 to 5.07 in 2007, and further still to 5.64 in 2013.

This compared to a rate of 1.5 dog bite hospitalisations per 100,000 population in the Netherlands in 2006-2007