Tragically, an eight-year-old boy died after being attacked by two dogs at his home in Tallaght in Dublin. This is such an awful event, affecting those involved so deeply and so personally that it’s tempting to not even discuss it. However, at the same time, it is such a significant happening that it is difficult to ignore it, and there’s a place for restrained, informed discussion, which is my intention here.
I discussed the incident on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show yesterday: at that stage, the boy had been reported to be seriously injured. His death was announced some hours later. You can listen to the podcast at this link, if you go to the 02:05:50 point on Monday’s listen back show.
The detail of the event is critically important
First, just to say that it is impossible to comment on the specifics of any case like this: the details of what happened here are crucial in understanding why it happened, and these are not in the public domain. I can only say, as I have said before, that I would like there to be a formal post-incident review of precisely what happened, and I would like that this information is made public. The only way that we can learn how to prevent these incidents is to learn from them when they happen. As it is, we just hear headlines at the time of the incident, then it’s forgotten about. The only memory people have is a specific breed name plus the fact that a child was badly injured, and this does nobody any service. It’s far more complicated than that.
General rule: never leave children alone with any dogs
The simple message that needs to be repeated whenever this type of incident happens is that children should never be left on their own with dogs, of any breed. Children are not aware enough of dog body language, and they are not good at picking up the early warning signs that a dog is becoming potentially aggressive. And with big dogs in particular (of any breed), children are not strong enough to be able to control them if they do become aggressive.
For these reasons, children and dogs always need to be supervised closely.
And I need to stress that any breed – Jack Russells, Collies, any at all – can inflict life changing injuries.
Extra measures during social isolation?
Are there any general messages that can be sent out to people at this time?
- Dogs are very aware of social tensions. They are part of our extended family. When we are all crammed indoors, we can get a bit crochety with each other, and dogs can pick up on this sort of mood too. The best thing is to try to have normal routines as far as possible, while making allowances for the new situation we are in.
- While it is safe to exercise dogs if you have access to wide open areas where there is no close contact with other people, it can be difficult if you live in an urban area where many people are off work and so are out walking and exercising their dogs.
- Also, if you are virus positive, or if you have been told that you have had contact with someone who is virus positive, then you should be aware that all of your possessions that you are in contact with can possibly carry the virus on their surface. And that includes pets.
- Dogs and cats cannot be infected with the virus, and there have been no instances where they have been known to have carried the virus. But in theory if someone sneezed onto a pet, then someone else petted the animal, the virus could be passed on.
- For this reason, in some instances, activities of dogs may be restricted in some ways.
- If you feel you cannot exercise your dog in its normal place etc, remember that physical exercise is only part of it: mental exercise is equally important. So if you normally take your dog out for a 45 minute walk but you can’t, then spend 45 minutes with them training them at home. Teach them new tricks (e.g. the Leave It command), There are thousands of good dog training videos online e.g. the Dogs Trust website.