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18 April 2024

Big dogs: Dangerous or just misunderstood?

By Majorie van Leijen

A poodle was mauled to death by an American Staffordshire Terrier. The bigger dog locked its jaws on the poodle, shook it and then tossed it in the air. The poodle was dead before it landed.

That was last Saturday, February 4, at the annual Dubai Pet Show.

The days following the incident have been characterised by fierce debate by numerous dog owners and canine lovers, with the focus on the notion of the 'dangerous breeds'.

In 2008, Dubai Municipality issued a list of 16 breeds of dogs considered as dangerous and therefore, banned in the UAE.

Ever since, it has been distributing leaflets throughout Dubai presenting the dog breeds. The leaflets were handed out at the Dubai Pet Show too.

It is, however, not a secret that there are plenty of the 'dangerous' dog breeds present in Dubai today.

In fact, dogs that were already here at the time the ban was issued are allowed to stay, explains Ghaith Al Falasi, head of inspection at Dubai Municipality.

Moreover, the rule is not practical, claim many dog lovers.

Rana Mohamad works at Dubai Kennels and Cattery (DKC). "I am a dog handler," she says. I do everything that needs to be done for the dogs that come to stay with us."

Rana studied Animal Care and says that she did not fully understand how to treat a dog until she started her studies.

At the kennel there are many dogs that are listed as a dangerous breed, she tells. "We have Pit Bulls and a lot of Rottweilers. But I have never heard or seen about an incident with these dogs.

Neither did Lize, the South African owner of an English Staffordshire Bull Terrier, one of the dog breeds listed as dangerous.

"I have never encountered a dangerous situation with our dog. I have had concerns. My staffie is just under two-years old, so is still very boisterous and “wild” at times. My son plays pretty rough with him, and my staffie “plays bites” during play time. But, my son fully understands our dog and how to interact with him. My concern here is more about other children who come over and may not be as educated."

According to Rana, it is all about education. "To keep a dog, one needs to know how to deal with a dog. It is not just about feeding and petting. There are certain things people need to know about a dog before they decide to keep one."

In her eyes, a dangerous dog does not exist and these ground rules apply to any kind of dog.

"It is the owner that makes a dog a dangerous one. A Pit Bull might be a strong dog, but not a dangerous one. This breed just needs the right approach."

"In the beginning I was more careful with Polly because I didn't have enough experience to understand everything," says the German Sarina Koerth, owner of an 11 year-old American Staffordshire Terrier. I'm trying to educate myself and learn as much as I can." 

Besides the terrier Sarina owns a Pit Bull and a 6-month old pup, the latter not belonging to the list of banned breeds in the UAE.

"The Pit Bull is great with the pup," she tells. "But my staffie is not very social with other dogs and she was quite old when I got her. However, she is now living with two other dogs, which shows it is never too late to train a dog; it just takes longer and requires more patience.

Many dog lovers in Dubai would call the ban of the 16 breeds ineffective, and the leaflets handed out at the dog show were received by some with anger.

"This will just feed the fear and prejudice and do no good at all!" writes the founder of a Facebook page called Molosser and Bully Breed Lovers UAE.

"I think they definitely need more attention, but they should stop scaring everybody and educate," says Sarina.

But, there is no education on how to keep the specific 16 breeds because the dogs are banned in the UAE, as Ghaith Al Falasi explains. "And there are good reasons for the ban. These breeds are considered dangerous everywhere in the world, as many incidents have taken place in the past."

For the dogs that are present in Dubai, rules are that they should be leashed and mulled whenever in a public place, rules that should avoid fatal incidents to occur, says Ghaith.

"If this means I can keep my dogs here I will follow these rules, says Lize, but personally I think muzzles are cruel.

"I never ever allow my children to walk the dogs on their own. Friends of my children are not allowed to visit unless I am at home and whenever the poodle of my neighbor approaches my dog I panic and ask the owner to call the dog back. Not because I believe my dogs will attack, but I want to avoid incidents at all costs," says Lize.

"Keeping a dog is a responsibility, just like having a child, with the difference that a child will grow up," says Rana who believes that most owners she has seen passing by in her career as a dog handler proved to be such responsible owners.

At the moment, all eyes are on Trip, the terrier that bit poodle Pluto at the show and that is under surveillance of a dog trainer. When its behavior will not improve, the dog might be put to sleep, to the frustration of dog lovers. In an effort to save the terrier they created a Facebook page stating:

"RIP Pluto, your loss is tragic, but another dog does not deserve to die, especially not because of a misunderstanding over the Staffie breed."