2 August 2019

Emergency vet shares dog attack horror stories as Liberals call for tougher laws

| Lachlan Roberts
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CVES director Tracy Hughes said pneumothorax is a common injury suffered in a dog attack. Photos: Region Media.

An emergency Canberra veterinarian says she treats two to three dogs a week that have been injured in dog attacks as the Liberals push the ACT Government to add more bite to its dog laws.

Canberra Veterinary Emergency Services provides vet care to pets 24 hours a day. Director Tracy Hughes said treating three cases of dog attacks each week is not uncommon at the service, with attacks occurring on the street, at home or even at dog parks.

“Dog attacks are not an uncommon thing and we would treat pets after a dog attack maybe two or three times a week,” Ms Hughes told Region Media. “I don’t feel like there has been a higher number of recent dog attacks but it might be that there is more media attention on several cases.

“There are many different reasons for dog attacks. Some dog attacks even happen in their own household when there is jealousy over food.

“Dogs can come in not really needing any veterinarian attention to needing severe veterinarian attention. The damage can sometimes be very severe and life-threatening and some dogs don’t make it.”

Ms Hughes said some of the worst cases she has seen is when a dog’s chest has been punctured, collapsing its lung.

“Lung lobes can be ripped in a dog attack, which happens when a big dog fights a small dog, picks it up and shakes it,” she recalled.

Dog attack injuries can be traumatic for owners and nurses alike.

“Sometimes the injuries look like nothing but then you open the animal up and you find that it has a pneumothorax (a collapsed lung) and it can’t breathe properly. It’s not that an uncommon injury.

“Dogs also have a lot of important structures in their neck, so a bite in the neck can really do a lot of damage. The shaking action does most of the damage because it acts like a saw.

“When the biting animal has the other dog pinned to the ground and shakes the head, the teeth can saw through the tissue and that can do severe damage.”

While the service does not refer particular cases to Domestic Animal Services, Ms Hughes said she has strongly encouraged owners to notify authorities if their pet was involved in a dog attack.

Ms Hughes said the experience can be traumatic for owners and nurses alike, even the owners of the dogs who have attacked.

“As an owner, it is completely traumatic,” she said. “There are some cases that come in and we look at them and realise that this is not good. We look at the way the dog is breathing and realise this is really sinister.

“But for us, it is all about stabilising and doing the best that we can for the animal and for the owner. We immediately go into the mode of trying to help and the focus becomes very strong.”

Canberra Veterinary Emergency Services provides vet care to pets 24 hours a day.

“There is pain and suffering on both sides when there is a dog attack because a lot of the time we get owners coming in to put their animal down because it has attacked an animal.

“I have dealt with both sides when the owners of the animal who has done the attacking have come in and been mortified and have been heartbroken because they are putting their much-loved pet to sleep.”

Canberra Liberals MLA Nicole Lawder has been campaigning for tougher dog laws and said she hears from distraught owners once a week whose pets have been victim to a dog attack.

“I have spoken with many owners whose pets have been gruesomely attacked, killed or permanently maimed or disabled,” Ms Lawder told Region Media. “We have to pay homage to our vets who are caring for these pets under challenging circumstances.

“I just don’t understand why the Government won’t do more to protect pets.”

Last month, a couple in Flynn were walking their two dogs when they were attacked by two large hunting-type dogs, barely leaving the dogs alive. The vet told Ms Lawder it was the worst mauling they had seen, but the attack dogs were still allowed to return home.

“I believe that the problem is that we are letting dangerous dogs – dogs who have already attacked – back into the community,” Ms Lawder said. “Too often, we hear that the dogs involved have previously been reported for other attacks.”

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New laws and big fines are making things much worse because most magistrates don’t know anything about dogs. All that will happen with the new laws is that there will be more dog attacks and more rich lawyers. I will simply put my dogs in the car and take them walking somewhere else because I don’t trust that these laws will be enforced correctly – if there is a dog fight then who is to blame? Provocation is a complete defence. Magistrates and pound inspectors have made some really bad rulings. Stupid prejudices caused the problem and it is getting worse. The laws won’t work.
BTW Tracy is a great vet.

Tracey and her team were wonderful with our dog Pedro at the CVES. Calm, practical, sensible yet thoughtful, patient and loving to our little fella. They gave us good advice that meant he is still here with us. Pedro wasn’t in an attacked situation but the care these vets give and their generosity of spirit to help us get through pet health challenges was incredible. Thanks Tracey and team, Pedro sends kisses too.

Friends of ours were walking their rescue greyhound (muzzled and on lead) when it was attacked by two roaming dogs. Their dog was badly injured and incurred over $1000 in vet bills. The offending dogs were caught and the owner fined approx $350 (government easily got their money) while it took over 12 months for the owners to recoup their costs after having to take the offending dog owner to court. Luckily their dog recovered well.
Also as part of the process, they were responsible for dropping off the subpoena to the offending owner and had to offer to pay for their transport to attend court….???

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