Letter: Dog bite story inflammatory

I really appreciate the fine example Port News is of an informative, balanced and inclusive rural community newspaper. However I was disappointed after reading the front page article last week regarding Josie Sutherland and her son being bitten by a dog on the Town Green Sunday March 25th.

Several critical pieces are information were omitted.

1) Was the said dog on a lead?

2) Ms Sutherland didn’t witness the ‘attack’

3) Did the dog break the child’s skin?

Yes dog owners most certainly need to be responsible for their animals in public spaces.

If you have a child with special needs, such as a child who ‘is on the spectrum’ and doesn’t like dogs to start with, why as a parent would you expose your child to the unpleasant anxiety of sitting so close to a dog? Children ‘on the spectrum’ frequently have exaggerated sensory overload in crowded or noisy spaces.

As Ms Sutherland states, the Town Green was very busy that day. She also observed the dog in close proximity seemed to be getting anxious. 

Ms Sutherland did not observe the alleged ‘attack’. She says her son would never go near a dog, so she asserts her presumption that the dog therefore must have approached her son. Not the other way around.

When we get down to further facts, the child was ‘nipped’ in his mother’s words. Did the dog in fact break the child’s skin?

The Macquarie Dictionary defines the following:

  • ‘nipped’  “to compress sharply between surfaces or points; pinch or bite”
  • ‘bite’ “to cut into or wound, with the teeth”
  • ‘attack’  “to set upon with force…assault…onslaught”

Offences where dog attacks person or animal

(1)  If a dog rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses or chases any person or animal (other than vermin), whether or not any injury is caused to the person or animal

2)  It is not an offence under this section if the incident occurred:

(a)  as a result of the dog being teased, mistreated, attacked or otherwise provoked

I would suggest that a dog that is on a lead with its owners, that is startled in close proximity would be likely to respond with a ‘nip’ to say ‘leave me be’ as a warning. 

It is quite possible that on a busy day on the Town Green with people crowded onto a picnic tables that perhaps unfortunately the child and the dog made contact without any of the adults witnessing the incident as they were otherwise distracted.

Perhaps common sense needs to prevail instead of parental histrionics. Children look to the adults for reassurance, not inflamed fear.

The dog owners apologised and left. I’m not surprised they ‘ran away’ as after reading this article.

The sensational nature of the article suggests that we are in the grip of a ‘dog attack’ pandemic (an estimated 4000 attacks per year – in the WHOLE of Australia of which no citation or source of this ‘fact’ was referenced). The gravity of the article’s sensational nature suggests you are not safe to take your small children to the Town Green for fear of random dog attack.

I walk my dog every day along the foreshore including the Town Green and Town Beach precinct. In over 18 months I have witnessed only one grumpy dog and his owner dealt with him promptly.

Instead of Ms Sutherland insisting on dog owners taking their dog to training lessons, perhaps she needs to educate her son some basic dog ‘etiquette’.

Rule number 1. Do not approach an unfamiliar dog, especially if it is on a lead - unless you first ask the owner if it is OK. Some anxious dogs feel very threatened if you come into their space. If they’re on a lead they have no escape. They’re minding their own business quietly. A fearful dog may communicate in the way they know how, by a quick nip to tell you or another dog to back off, “You’re in my space and I don’t like it!”

I was disappointed this article wasn’t more balanced. Also I was very dismayed that editorial gave the article front page sensationalism.

Dogs and children are unpredictable. We all do our best. Let’s not blow a simple life lesson out of proportion.

Port Macquarie dog owners, especially the walking crew are exceptionally friendly and congenial. We recognise each other by our dogs. I’m sure nobody remembers anyone’s names, but we all know the names of everyone’s dogs.

The Sydney Morning Herald ‘Good Weekend Magazine’, March 31, 2018. ran an article this weekend “Follow my lead” written by Clark Butler.

Butler captures succinctly ‘the social power of the pooch’. I would like to recommend people read it to remind ourselves why dogs are such an important part of our public lives.

Lea Horan

Port Macquarie

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