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.
“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.”
“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.”