Calls have been made for a full review of dog-control legislation following the death of a Co Galway woman from serious bite injuries at the weekend.
Teresa McDonagh (64) had called to check on animals owned by a close relative at Knockarasser, near Moycullen, at lunchtime on Sunday when she was attacked by two bull mastiffs.
It is understood that Mrs McDonagh’s husband, Eddie, had earlier been taken to hospital for medical treatment after a fall in Moycullen, and was accompanied by his son.
Mrs McDonagh was checking on the animals and was alone when the dogs attacked her.
Neighbours raised the alarm and the gardaí and emergency services were alerted at about 3pm, but her injuries were fatal and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Parish priest Canon Michael McLoughlin, who visited Mrs McDonagh’s family on Monday, said it would take some time for them to come to terms with it and that they were “devastated”.
Mrs McDonagh's husband is still in hospital. The Moycullen community had rallied around the couple in 2015 when one of their sons, Brendan, sustained serious injuries in a motorbike crash in Thailand while en route home from Australia.
“The community is numbed and shocked at such a horrific accident, so unforeseen and unexpected,” Canon McLoughlin said. “It is one of these tragedies you can’t explain.”
Review of law
The Social Democrats have called for review of the 20-year-old dog-control legislation, which would focus on owners as well as animals, and would avoid a blanket ban on some breeds.
The party's Galway representative Niall Ó Tuathail quoted research by NUI Galway psychologist Dr Páraic Ó Súilleabháin, tracing a rise in the rate of hospitalisations in Ireland from dog bites.
He found that 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 was much higher than in other European countries.
He said that current legislation controlling dangerous breeds was not only ineffective but could be making the problem worse as it gave people a false perception that other breeds would not show aggression.
Dr Ó Súilleabháin said his thoughts were with the family and relatives of Mrs McDonagh.
“We need public policy which is based on the available peer-reviewed scientific evidence in order to reduce the likelihood of a tragedy such as this occurring again,” he said.
Dog behaviour specialist Nanci Creedon has called for a State-sponsored education and awareness programme, and says dog owners should have to pass a theory test to hold a licence.
Ms Creedon pointed out that legislation on restricted breeds applies to public places only, but that all animals can behave in a territorial manner in certain conditions.
Veterinary Ireland, which represents vets across the State, has recommended changes to ensure that only irresponsible dog owners are punished, and that dogs are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
It said it did not believe that breeds should be singled out, and future legislation should be grounded in scientific opinion and focused on education of dog owners and the general public, while maintaining the welfare of the dog population.
BITE CASUALTIES: BY THE NUMBERS
The number of people hospitalised for dog bites rose 50 per cent between 1998 and 2013.
A research paper published in the Veterinary Journal states that 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 works better than banning breeds.
The report states that 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 with a rate of 1.5 dog bite hospitalisations per 100,000 population in the Netherlands in 2006-2007.