Every time a child is killed by a dog or seriously mauled, there are demands that the Government do something. It is happening again this week. The victim this time was four years old and she is dead from a sudden and unstoppable attack by the family pet in the family home.
The Government is reluctant to act for two reasons. First, it is (apparently) unclear what would be an effective thing to do. Second, it looks at the supermarket aisles stacked with dog food and reminds itself of the voting power of the Dog Lobby. Austerity hasn't bitten into dog keeping and still less into the hopeless sentimentality which surrounds these creatures.
One thing the Government could do is to reflect on how over decades it has tried to improve Road Safety and discourage Smoking. Legislation has been important - the introduction of breathalysers and seat belts, for example - but so too have publicity campaigns.
People should be made to think more carefully before they take in a dog, often free from some re-homing centre for unwanted dogs. The dog may be unwanted for very good reasons and the re-homing centre has very limited obligations to certify that it is not psychotic.
To be effective advertising needs to be blunt:
Dogs or Children. The Choice is Yours
Dogs and Children Don't Mix
Are you sure your dog is safe?
As for legislation, it needs to be better thought-through than the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1990. There should be costs to dog keeping just as there are costs to smoking. Here are some possible measures:
- Dogs should be licensed.
- They should be limited to one per household.
- When passed from one person to another, or from a re-homing centre to an end-user, they should need an MOT certifying that they are safe to own.
- There should be an additional tax on dog food to fund the rehabilitation to those who have been mauled and traumatised.
- There should be a One Strike rule. If a dog bites, it should be destroyed.
It might also be no bad thing to remind people that there are child-friendly alternatives to dogs: mice, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, goldfish, budgerigars, cats. And that's a short list. Some of those pets have additional advantages: they don't bark and they don't shit on the pavements.
Think about it. Sentimentality often carries a high price.