In April 1989, Kelly Lynch, an eleven year-old girl, out one morning to visit her friend in Dunoon, West Scotland, was attacked by two Rottweilers which two girls had decided to take for a walk along the shore. Kelly was so ferociously attacked and her injuries so serious that she died very soon afterwards. In early June, this time in England, a Rotweiler type of dog attacked four people. This particular breed has not suddenly become dangerously aggressive beasts However, perhaps as a result of such incidents, the image of them in the public mind has changed dramatically.
The fact is that attacks on people by pet dogs are not rare, nor are they a new phenomenon. However, many people in Western societies, unable to find the true love the hoped for from other human beings and who do not understand true love, have become so very attached to dogs, and dogs have become so much a part of the pattern of social life, that nobody wants to see their aggressive and dangerous side. Peter Barchlet, an American specialist and consultant on animal behaviour, states that the most typical complaint of those who come to him for help relates to the aggressiveness of their pet dogs. However, it is something of a consolation that, at least, we know (more or less) the reasons for this aggressiveness.
One of these is the dog’s natural drive to defend vigorously whatever it thinks belongs to it or use of which it enjoys. A good example is the incident which happened in June 1989 in London. A fourteen-month old baby put its hand into the dog’s bowl. The dog, instinctively protective of its food, attacked the baby, causing serious injuries to the baby’s head and ears. In a similar incident a ten-year old boy approached the family’s own dog to find out what the dog had caught but the dog became tense and angry, brought the boy down to the ground and bit him.
The popular wisdom about attacks by dogs, that they usually happen outside the home - in parks or streets or dark alleyways - is far from the truth. In fact, a quarter of the victims of such attacks are family members and take place inside the pet-owners’ own homes. In general, 65-95% of attacks take place inside or near the home. Attacks by unaccompanied or stray dogs account for only 10% of incidents.
The second reason for dogs becoming aggressive is their suffering, or fear of suffering and ill-treatment. Under threat (whether real or so perceived by the animal), a dog is by nature tense and violent. For instance a little child playfully throwing toys at a dog may suddenly be subject to a cruel aggression. A one-year old did no more than throw a roll of paper at the family pet, but was nevertheless attacked and injured.
Another factor provoking aggressive behaviour in dogs is their need or desire to dominate over a member of the family whom it sees almost as a rival. An important reason why dogs can live amidst human beings is that they appear to regard themselves as full members of the family. That is, the way the dogs see themselves in the family is very different from the way the people see them. By natural instinct, therefore, in the absence of authority in the house, the dog tries to assert and establish its authority.
Finally, dogs can also be provoked to aggression if a situation occurs that arouses their hunting instinct. Actions normally perceived as innocent by people may not be perceived in the same way by dogs. In May 1989, James Walker, a five-year old boy who happened to be cycling by was attacked by three Rottweilers, is a good example of this. Evidently, the boy’s riding past them excited the dogs’ instinct to chase and bring down.
An incident in France on 8th December 1989 is particularly interesting for the manner in which it was presented on radio news. It illustrates very well how far this social sickness has gone in the West: A sixty-five-year year old woman was savaged. The sight when her neighbours found her body upon entering the house three weeks later was gruesome. However, in order not to frighten French people, more than 65% of whom might be presumed to be feeding their own pet dog in their homes, claimed that the cause of the woman’s death was unknown, that there was no certain explanation for why the dogs attacked as they did. However, the explanation is not at all difficult to find - it should be admitted and warning duly taken.
Many more such examples could be cited. A sturbing aspect of them is the deep scars left on the minds of children and other members of the family. Seeking a remedy this problem, which is worsening and becoming more threatening every day, the Western societies offer only piecemeal advice, a list of precautionary Do’s and Don’ts. But in fact, it is impossible for this unnatural tradition not to hurt social structures and relationships. Who can be certain how an infant, at its most impressionable age, will be affected in later years by the trauma of being attacked by the family pet, one supposed to be reliable like a friend?
Of course, it would be most unjust to lay the blame on dogs for following their instincts of being dogs. What is necessary is that human beings should relearn how to give priority to human love for other human beings, and not divert the need to give and receive affection into artificial and unsatisfactory channels. In spite of the danger and harm that so often results, why do so many people in Western societies display love for an animal which they withhold from their neighbours, their relatives, in some cases even from their children? It is obvious that they, too, are looking for the true ethos of loving kindness. They may find it in the sane and balanced compassion of the Prophet, upon him be peace, who commanded kindness to animals, and who also said: ‘If dogs were not a nation, I would command you to kill them.’