Public outcry unleashed by Rottweiler attack on young girl

Yang Jian
It's easy to advocate for responsible dog ownership and safeguards for both public safety and animal welfare, but sometimes the balance is hard to achieve.
Yang Jian

In the southwestern city of Chengdu, a young girl was viciously attacked by a Rottweiler in a residential complex, triggering online debate about dangerous dog breeds, irresponsible dog owners and public safety.

The sudden attack was captured on surveillance footage as the black dog lunged at a mother and her daughter outside their apartment in an attack that lasted several minutes. The young girl suffered 20 wounds, a damaged kidney and fractured ribs. She remains hospitalized but is in stable condition.

The online reaction showed public outrage toward the dog's owner in particular and toward unleashed dogs in general.

Incidents of dog attacks have become increasingly common in recent years. China has the world's largest dog population, with over 12 million dog bites reported annually.

About 40 million people are bitten by dogs (and cats) each year, leading to over 10 million people receiving rabies preventative treatment, surpassing the number of casualties in traffic accidents.

Public outcry unleashed by Rottweiler attack on young girl
Ti Gong

Surveillance footage shows a Rottweiler viciously attacking a two-year-old girl.

The need for public safety is, of course, a legitimate concern. People should be able to walk in Shanghai without fear of being attacked by a dog. However, striking a balance between public safety, animal welfare and the rules of pet ownership is also vital.

A young mother said online that she had considered buying a stick for self-defense when going out.

"After watching videos about how to protect oneself from large dogs, I became more cautious when taking baby outside," she said.

Hannah, a dog owner, said online that she is reluctant to take her pet dog outside for walks because of her neighbors' disapproving stares.

Some online comments call for such extreme measures as the mass extermination of unregistered or stray dogs, and even discussions about poisoning dogs. When several celebrities advocated for the protection of stray dogs, an online backlash ensued.

Dogs are cherished family members in many households, but their owners must be responsible for their behavior. Although some more dangerous breeds are outright banned in many cities, China currently lacks a comprehensive nationwide framework on dog ownership, and local authorities are often remiss or lenient in enforcing regulations such a leash laws and dog registration.

The recent incident involving a Rottweiler attack, for instance, exposed deficiencies in dog ownership regulations, with possession of a banned dog drawing fines of only up to 200 yuan (US$27.30).

Public outcry unleashed by Rottweiler attack on young girl
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A couple walks two large dogs on the West Bund waterfront in Xuhui.

A multi-pronged approach is obviously needed, including legislative changes, public education and more attention focused on responsible ownership.

Some countries, like France, the United Kingdom, Japan and New Zealand, have implemented pet dog registration systems that require microchip implantation. These systems not only help identify owners but also reunite lost pets with their families.

Furthermore, these countries have detailed and enforced leash laws, and penalties for owners of aggressive dogs are more severe, including imprisonment in some cases. In France, a dog owner may face a prison sentence of 5-10 years and a substantial fine if their dog attacks a person and causes severe injuries.

Despite safeguards, the problem persists. England has experienced a rise of 22 percent in dog attacks in two years, and several recent incidents of people either dying or being severely wounded in public attacks have galvanized public opinion that more must be done.

In a perfect world, people with dogs would live in open country, where their pets could get daily exercise without threatening passers-by. But in heavily populated urban areas, dogs become more of a problem.

Various Chinese cities maintain a list of prohibited dog breeds. In Shanghai, for example, mastiffs, Rottweilers, bulldogs, Dobermanns and German shepherds are among the breeds illegal to keep.

Ultimately, the issue of dog-related incidents is fundamentally a problem of human responsibility. Irresponsible dog ownership, exacerbated by weak regulations and inadequate penalties can lead to public outrage when vicious attacks occur.

Advocating for responsible ownership while implementing regulations to protect both humans and animals is the key to addressing dog-related issues. Stiffer punishment must be considered for dog owners who violate the rules. But as recent events in England have shown, the problem is not easily resolved.

Public outcry unleashed by Rottweiler attack on young girl
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Dogs and their owners socialize in West Bund in Shanghai's Xuhui District.

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