WARNING: Graphic images follow
The tragic death of a 14-month-old girl in Victoria last month has reignited the debate over how to keep people safe from dogs — including their own.
About 40 per cent of Australian households own a dog and the most recent data shows two people die and around 13,000 end up in hospital each year from dog attacks.
Suzel Mackintosh had been working as a model in London before returning to WA for a camping trip to celebrate the New Year.
Just before the countdown at midnight she was viciously attacked by a friend’s dog while rummaging through a car the dog was in.
“It jumped on my face and just shook me a like a rag doll and that’s when I could feel all the holes in my face and my nose hanging off to one side,” Ms Mackintosh told 7.30.
“I realised my whole life was going to change.”
She believes the dog was a Staffordshire-cross and thinks they should be banned.
“I used to be quite confident and now I’m really insecure about how I look,” she said.
“I don’t see myself in the mirror anymore. I find it quite hard to get work as a model, now I’m working two jobs trying to make ends meet to cover all my costs and save up for future surgery.
“I just feel like this has become my life now.”
Ms Mackintosh is still processing the trauma of the attack and is trying to restart her modelling career.
She is speaking out in the hope of preventing an attack from happening to anyone else.
“I just want to bring awareness,” she said.
“You might not think it can happen to you, but it can.”
Banning ‘doesn’t work’, RSPCA says
Liz Walker, chief executive of the Victorian RSPCA, said banning dogs was not the right response.
“Around the world, wherever breed-specific legislation has been in place, it has failed to protect people, to create safer communities and reduce dog bites,” she told 7.30.
“It simply doesn’t work.”
She believes the answer is better training.
“I think there’s an opportunity for owners to either be required to or given the opportunity to undertake training beforehand, and for that I think it would be appropriate that they perhaps got a reduction in their registration fee as an incentive to become better informed and better educated,” Dr Walker said.
David Wrigley owns a pit bull and knows what it is like to have a good dog with a bad reputation.
He agreed that better-educated owners would be more beneficial than tougher laws.
“Pit bulls would have to be one of the most enjoyable breeds that I’ve ever come across to own,” he told 7.30.
“If you don’t take the time to learn about your dog and how to raise them, the dog pays the price instead of the people.”
‘Weapons need to be regulated’
That does not convince Bruce Wicksteed or his daughter Maya.
Maya was just six years old when she was attacked by a pack of dogs while exploring the property where her father was working — leaving her in need of hundreds of stitches and years of counselling.
Mr Wicksteed is convinced of the need for harsher restrictions on certain breeds of dogs.
“Unfortunately it does take a tragic event, the death of a child, to get people out of their sleep and to be looking at these issues,” he told 7.30.
“I think there definitely needs to be tighter control on dangerous dog breeds.”
Maya’s story is shocking but not surprising.
The most at-risk age group for dog attacks is children under 10 years old. And in 84 per cent of cases reported, the victim was attacked by their own pet or a dog owned by someone they knew.
Mr Wicksteed is shocked by the reaction he gets when he calls for tighter regulations of bull Arab mastiffs — the breed of dog that mauled his daughter.
“The reactions were similar to what you see with the National Rifle Association and people feeling their right to bear arms is being challenged,” Mr Wicksteed said.
“But I think the precedents have been set.
“The American pit bull has been outlawed because they’re a vicious dog. They’ve been bred specifically for fighting and hunting, and in that context they become a weapon.”
“And weapons need to be regulated.”