A CHILD could be seriously hurt or killed if our community does not get a grip on a worrying increase in the number of dog attacks.
That’s the message as police and hospital figures show that dog attacks are on the up.
And the overwhelming evidence from dog experts, victims and community leaders is that the dogs’ owners are to blame.
Lack of pet training, awareness and buying certain breeds for the wrong reasons are behind the attacks.
Figures obtained from a Freedom of Information request to Hampshire police show that the number of reports of dog attacks on humans or assistance dogs was 284 in 2010, 292 in 2011, 289 in 2012, 316 in 2013, and 442 in 2014.
A recent nationwide report from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed the number of people needing hospital treatment for dog attacks soared by 76 per cent in the past 10 years – 7,227 hospital admissions last year, up from 4,110 a decade ago.
The big rise from 2013 to 2014 in Hampshire is partly down to increased officer awareness and a change in the way incidents are recorded.
But, with a number of shocking attacks in recent years in the Portsmouth area, MP Penny Mordaunt is taking the issue seriously and has been in talks with the Dogs Trust and the Blue Cross with a view to starting a city-wide education programme.
She told The News: ‘It boils down to responsible dog ownership.
‘We have had a number of cases – not so many recently, but two years ago there was a peak.
‘We had cases of puppies being mauled to death by dogs with very irresponsible owners.
‘We have been looking at what education programmes really work and what’s working elsewhere in the country.’
She said there had been reports a couple of years ago of people training dogs to be used as weapons, but this had become less of an issue.
Ms Mordaunt said the single biggest issue seemed to be owners not taking responsibility for their dog’s actions.
‘People do not realise they are putting other people in danger,’ said the Portsmouth North MP. ‘People have to realise they are responsible.
‘A lot of attacks that have occurred locally will be because people didn’t think their dog would behave in a particular way.
‘People let them off the lead and have not really been in control of them.
‘I don’t think that’s the case everywhere.
‘Clearly dogs need exercise and want to be able to run free.
‘But there are places where it’s appropriate and places where it is not.’
Research from animal charity PDSA found that 30 per cent of dog owners claim they have been bitten or attacked by someone else’s dog.
Glyn Morris, who saw his nine-month-old husky Mitzu bitten by two bull mastiffs in Southsea, said: ‘Something needs to be done.
‘It’s all these fighting dogs, the bull mastiffs and the Staffies, these are dogs that were bred specifically to kill animals.
‘Staffies are great dogs in the right hands, but a lot of people will wind their dogs up.
‘If those dogs got hold of a kid, they would rip them to pieces.
‘You should keep them on a lead, especially if there’s more than one of these dogs.
‘If there is a problem, it’s very difficult to control one dog, let alone two.’
A 32-year-old Southsea woman, who did not want to be named, was left with bites to her arm after being attacked in July on Southsea Common as she walked her dog.
She said she no longer feels safe walking her dog in Portsmouth as too many dogs are off leads.
She said the combination of having an overpopulated island and limited green space added to the problem.
She told The News: ‘I think it’s quite irresponsible if you are going to let your dog off the lead.
‘You have to make sure your dog comes back on command every time.
‘If not, your dog must be on a lead. If you know your dog can get aggressive, have them on a lead.
‘Police have their hands full enough without checking every dog is on a lead.’
The community safety and dog kennel departments at Portsmouth City Council have recently been merged.
Roy Goulding, anti-social behaviour manager at the council, said: ‘In the first place, our advice would be to make sure you research the type of dog that you are getting and understand the different breeds and behaviour.
‘People think Staffordshire Bull Terriers are aggressive dogs, but they can make good family pets.
‘It’s really how you treat them and bring them up.
‘One of things we may be looking at in the future is ways we can help to educate and do our own behavioural classes for dog owners.
‘That will encourage owners to understand the difference between the dogs, the way to treat them and everyone giving the same command.’
Mr Morris added: ‘There needs to be something between the police and the dog wardens, something run by the government, that just deals with these cases.’
A spokeswoman for Hampshire police said: ‘There are a number of reasons for the increase, including better recording and officer education.’
She added that the rise was also down more reports due to an amendment in the Dangerous Dogs Act last year.
Since 1991 it has been illegal for dogs to be ‘out of control in a public place’.
However, last year the law was extended to cover incidents that take place on private property, including homes and gardens.