Dubai: Volunteers manning entry points at the Dubai Pet Show last Friday said they felt overpowered and helpless in stopping owners of large dogs who refused to muzzle their pets and forced their way in — despite repeated requests.
Hours after a poodle was killed in a deadly attack by an unmuzzled American Staffordshire terrier at the show, Lola Lopez, Founder of the NGO Volunteer in UAE, which manned the points, told XPRESS, "The organisers have to come up with a solution to this problem before it's a child that is killed."
The incident at the hugely popular Whiskas & Pedigree Dubai Pet Show, the largest of its kind in the UAE, has come as an eye-opener as the presence of a large number of unmuzzled beasts not only posed a threat to other dogs in a "high testosterone" environment (see side-bar), but also to the 30,000-plus unsuspecting visitors, many of them children.
Event sponsors Pedigree & Whiskas said, "All vets and security at the event were briefed to check dogs for up-to-date vaccination status, a leash and a muzzle for large dogs. The dog, which was involved in the [poodle] incident, was demonstrated to satisfy all of these regulations when it entered the event."
They said, "Although it's a requirement for certain breeds entering the event to wear a muzzle, it's ultimately the responsibility of the owner not to remove the headgear. There was a security team employed to spot-check the public to reinforce that handlers should not remove their dogs' leashes and muzzles, together with security patrols carried out over the course of the day."
So what went wrong?
The protocol at the main gates was well defined. All dog owners coming in had to get their dogs checked by the vets who were their first point of contact, after which they headed to the registration tables and through the archways inside.
Lopez said her volunteers were working in two shifts of around 30 people at the registration tables and the archways, besides helping out at charity stalls.
She said, "Our volunteers weren't told during morning briefing that certain dogs had to be muzzled, so hundreds of breeds known for being randomly and unexpectedly dangerous had been allowed in. Having said that, once the organisers gave me the list of dogs — I asked for it after the poodle incident — and I passed the information on to our volunteers at the main gate, people still refused to put on a muzzle and forced their way inside."
Pleas fell on deaf ears
"Of course, our volunteers couldn't argue with them. Think of the dynamics — no one is going to be too tough on a guy with a 100kg bull terrier inches away from his owner. The only form of authority that there is a chance these people might respect is the police," she said.
Faisal, a volunteer, spoke of the hard time he had trying to stop three men from entering the show with their pitbulls. "They just pushed past me."
"I then called security, who tried to stop the men but they ignored them and continued into the grounds," said Lopez. "Another man with what could have only been a Rottweiller/Doberman cross weighing around 90kg, when asked to muzzle the dog, screamed at me that he is "only eight months old", to which my reply was ‘yet he could still fit a child's head in his mouth'," she added.
As such large, unmuzzled dogs forced their way in, a fun family day out turned into a nightmare for some. Morteza Kariman, owner of Pluto, the poodle that died, said he was with his wife and two children when Pluto "was attacked and murdered" in a matter of minutes.
"The American Staffordshire terrier was attending the show without a mask, which is illegal," he said, adding, "More than the loss of our pet, we are concerned over the alarming risk that was posed by the dog, as thousands of young children were walking around the ground petting and caressing the dogs at the show."
Laura Marr, of the Dubai Pug Club, said, "Despite having a couple of hours of fun at the show with our pugs, we always felt we had to be on our guard from the unsocial trophy dogs that were being paraded by their careless owners. I am surprised that this unfortunate incident hasn't happened before, especially when aggressive dogs are continually allowed to enter the event — even breeds that are supposedly banned in the UAE."
A Mirdif resident who was there with her fiancé and dog said an unmuzzled boxer nearly got her. "His owner said he was friendly but when I bent down to stroke him, he warned me not to get too close as he could bite. By then, it was too late and the dog got me by the back pocket of my jeans. Fortunately his teeth didn't draw blood, it just left a superficial bruise."
"Such incidents are not new. Why are pet owners so irresponsible? If they know they have a dangerous dog, they must muzzle it," said Laura Glanfield of Poshpaws Animal Sanctuary.
Some like Marr of the Dubai Pug Club said, "If a muzzle is needed as a last resort to stop a dog potentially biting, then there really must be something wrong with the treatment of the animal from its owner. It is the owner and his or her training that can make or break a dog's life."
"It was heartbreaking to see so many large breed dogs that had hind leg problems and could hardly walk — could this be because they are kept in small cages without proper exercise? For this reason, my pugs and I will not be returning next year," she added.
But the event sponsors are already working on beefing up security next year. "In order to improve security for 2013, Dubai Pet Show has been in continuous contact with Dubai Municipality since Friday's event to agree on ways to strengthen security policies and processes, including how they will work together to oversee and regulate entry to any future event," they assured.
‘Onus lies on owners'
DUBAI Despite the negative reputation surrounding pitbulls and Staffordshire terriers, a canine specialist says they are gentle dogs until provoked, in which case they may attack to defend themselves.
"American Staffordshire terriers are family dogs," says Aimee Orme, a canine behaviourist from Paws Pet Planet. "However, due to their size, power and jaw strength, people often misinterpret their playfulness for aggression."
Best described in the dog world as a bull in a China shop, there's no denying that these gentle giants can unintentionally hurt, sometimes fatally, if not trained the right way, as an act of self-defence. "When they play with other dogs, they can be rough. They don't realise their strength. As with most breeds of dog, they need to be trained and socialised as early in puppyhood as possible. And that is the responsibility of their owners," says the UK Kennel Club accredited instructor and animal behaviourist.
During events such as the dog show, it's up to the owner to keep an eye on his dog at all times, she explains. "In the case of Trip [the American Staffordshire terrier] and Pluto [the toy poodle], it's heartbreaking what happened: for both dogs. Poor Pluto is already gone, and now Trip faces a similar end. It's a shame because the onus of a dog's behaviour is entirely on its owner. Unfortunately not enough owners are educated about dog behaviour," says Orme.
Eyewitnesses at the scene of the incident at the Dubai Pedigree and Whiskas show report seeing the poodle approach the terrier from behind, sniffing at his rear. "It's not unusual for a dog of any breed or size to react to being sniffed from behind. Moreover, in a show environment such as this one, there were so many dogs and people in one little space. Of course dogs get stressed in such environments, especially in Dubai, since there are very few areas that allow dogs in. Add to that the heat of the day and it's most likely that Trip may have already been stressed and if another dog came from behind to sniff him, then yes, he reacted, possibly perceiving it as a threat. And because of the size and power difference, it ended the way it did," says Orme.
The key to preventing such an incident lies on the owners, she believes. "Why were the dogs not kept on a short leash? Why were some owners not keeping a constant eye on their dogs? Why were some dog owners treating the day as if it was their day out, instead of it being a canine day? All said and done, a dog is a dog. It needs to be trained. That's the owner's responsibility. Any owner who believes his dog is above the rules, needs to think long and hard of the consequences. Dogs behave differently in the comfort of their homes as when they are in stressful outdoor environments. Watch your dog at all times. If he shows any sign of aggression, remove him from that environment and take him home, or muzzle him, to safeguard not only other dogs but his own safety in the long run."
Orme believes that what happened to Pluto was tragic. And that what's now happening to Trip is just as tragic. "He's being kept in isolation, away from everyone who loves him and can handle him. Of course he'll be agitated. Whatever behaviour they'll monitor won't be 100 per cent accurate. There's no point in killing another dog. I'd say train the owners instead."
The Dubai Municipality banned 16 breeds of dogs in the city in a circular dated October 28, 2007. These breeds include: American pitbull terrier, American bulldog, American Staffordshire terrier, Argentinean mastiff, bull terrier, Canary dog fila brasilerio/Brazilian mastiff, miniature bull terrier, Neapolitan mastiff, Old English bulldog, perro de presa mallorquin/bulldog, Shar Pei, Staffordshire bull terrier, Tosa, husky, Rottweiler, Doberman.
What the Law says
The rules and regulations of the Veterinary Services Section of the Public Health Department under Dubai Municipality clearly state that keeping a prohibited dog is a violation that can result in its confiscation.
Anyone found guilty of "failure to put appropriate mask and/or leash on a dog when exercising or accompanying it in a public place" can be fined Dh200 in the first offence and double the amount in the second offence. If the second offence occurs within a year of the first, the dog is confiscated.
There is also a provision to impound the dog and impose a fine of Dh5,000 on its owner if it causes harm to other people or their properties.