Seeking to provide greater sense of security

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 October, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 October, 1999, 12:00am

Graeme Alford in his letter headlined, 'Amendment ill-considered and arbitrary' (South China Morning Post, October 16), has questioned the justification for control measures on large dogs in the proposed Dangerous Dogs Regulation. I would like to summarise the key reasons for the introduction of these measures.

According to Hospital Authority data, more than 4,000 dog bite cases are presented to hospitals for treatment annually. Based on cases investigated by the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (AFD) as well as overseas data we estimate (conservatively) that at least 30 per cent of these occur in public places, indicating that more than 1,200 dog bite cases occur in public places per year.

Of these, approximately two per cent (more than 20) will be serious, requiring hospitalisation of the patient. A significant proportion of these patients will undergo corrective or plastic surgery, often to the face and neck.

Over the past four years, more than 90 per cent of dog bite cases investigated by the AFD that resulted in hospitalisation of the victim were caused by dogs fitting into the 'large dog' category.

Of cases in public places between 1995 and 1997 (the only years where such an analysis has been possible) the majority (nine out of 14) were owned dogs and 50 per cent of them were licensed at the time of the incident. This refutes suggestions that most of these bites are caused by unlicensed or, more importantly, unowned dogs.

Current laws, which are enforced rigorously, do not allow prosecution of owners when biting incidents or infringements relating to control of dogs occur in the common parts of private estates.

In addition, experience with enforcement has shown that it can be difficult to prove that an unleashed dog is not otherwise under control, as is allowed under existing laws.

This is particularly relevant in village situations where keepers often claim they are in control of their dogs even though the dog is outside the owner's dwelling in a public place. Tightening leashing requirements for large dogs will allow improved control in such situations.

The additional control measures are not onerous and are consistent with those imposed on dogs in similar situations elsewhere in the world. They will cause minimal inconvenience to dog owners and have no welfare implications for their dogs.

Muzzling will only be required for dogs in transit through common parts of buildings. Similar requirements exist for large dogs on public transport in Melbourne, Australia - a situation akin to that in buildings in Hong Kong where the public and large dogs are required to share a confined space.

Leashing requirements for large dogs in the proposed regulation are less restrictive than those in many other countries where it is required for all dogs in public places at all times.

Introduction of these measures will provide members of the public, most of whom have had limited exposure to dogs, with a greater sense of security when encountering large dogs in public places.

Ultimately, the decision to introduce these measures is a question of balance.

Placing public safety first, we believe that any reductions achieved by these measures in the number of bites by large dogs in public places and the number of people requiring reconstructive surgery on bite wounds would far outweigh the minor inconvenience that owners of large dogs may experience.

L. D. SIMS for Director of Agriculture and Fisheries