The death of 4 year old Ayen Chol in Melbourne last year was a terrible tragedy. The coroner investigating the death of the Victorian toddler handed down her findings on 28 September.

Among the coroner’s findings was a recommendation that all vets in Victoria be required by law to report any dog they suspect of being a restricted breed when these animals are presented to the veterinarian, despite a submission to the coroner from the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) outlining the recommendation’s flaws.

The AVA issued a statement outlining its opposition on the grounds that it’s not possible to tell a dog’s breed purely on its appearance, and DNA markers for pit bulls haven’t been identified. The statement also expressed concern that some dogs would not be presented to the veterinarian, and get appropriate veterinary care, if reporting is mandatory.

AVA President, Ben Gardiner, was featured in the ABC television news story covering the release of the coroner’s findings.

Dangerous dogs – a sensible solution is a report which outlines the AVA’s preferred policy approach. The report outlines the scientific evidence about dog bite incidents, and explores the factors that influence a dog’s tendency to bite.

The key element of the strategy is the early identification of potentially aggressive dogs on an individual basis. The strategy requires regulation of ‘potentially dangerous dogs’ as well as ‘dangerous dogs’ that have demonstrated aggression towards people or other pets. Experience from around the world has shown that a truly successful dog bite prevention regime cannot rely on regulation alone. Its success depends on a comprehensive system of measures that support socially responsible pet ownership.

The strategy proposes:-

  • Effective identification and registration of all dogs
  • A national reporting system to track dog bite incidents consistently with mandatory reporting of dog bite incidents to the national database
  • Temperament testing encouraged by reduced registration costs
  • Education of the whole community including pet owners, breeders, parents and children – research has shown that education is effective in reducing dog bite incidents

Most dog bites take place in homes with familiar family pets and most people bitten by dogs are children under 10 years of age. No bite prevention strategy can be successful without taking steps to reduce these incidents, numerically far greater than bites taking place in public places and caused by unknown dogs.