I used to walk my dogs at The Peak - not my neighbourhood, by the way - and made friends with a group of fellow dog lovers there. We were all in terror of a Tibetan mastiff, which took twice-daily walks there. To be fair, its owner had instructed the two foreign domestic helpers who handled the mastiff well. They were extremely cautious and responsible, making sure it did not mix with other dogs. It had a metal lead with handles from both sides; because it was such a massive breed it needed the maids to pull from both sides to stop it from lunging.
A well-trained mastiff, whether it's Tibetan or English, can be a lovely member of the family. But all mastiff breeds are fighting dogs, and can be extremely aggressive if they are trained to fight, or perhaps worse, not trained at all. That was what got me so angry when I read about a Tibetan mastiff, which killed a six-year-old girl in Dalian last week when she was just walking to the neighbourhood grocery. The owner now faces three to seven years in jail. Serves him right!
But what also got me was that the attack sparked online and media debates on the mainland about the dangers of large dogs, when the debate should be about irresponsible dog ownership. Coming at a time when cities such as Beijing are cracking down on large dogs in the most inhumane way possible, the attack just added fuel to already lethal prejudice and callous officialdom about big dogs in the dog-eating mainland.
The mastiff in the fatal attack reportedly knocked the child down and went straight for her throat. She died in hospital with severe damage to her trachea and arteries. Going for the throat is actually uncharacteristic of most dogs, but, I was told, not of Tibetan mastiffs. Unfortunately, the special breed can cost more than a new Porsche, so it has become a status symbol.
You may remember how a mainland businesswoman a few years back flew such a mastiff in from Tibet and brought traffic to a standstill in her hometown as local cops blocked roads to transport the dog from the airport to a celebration party. The incident provoked condemnatory editorials from state media about showing off wealth. But what mainland authorities need to do is to regulate the sales and ownership of dangerous breeds, not to go after all the large dogs indiscriminately.