Opinion: We have to get the message through to parents about dogs
11:48 21 February 2014
In this country we like to think we are getting better at safeguarding our children from the risks they face in the home and their immediate environment.
That, of course, includes cars where we now do not think twice about strapping our toddlers securely into baby seats or ensuring their seat belts are being worn.
Thankfully, politicians have taken a positive step towards banning that insidious practice of parents smoking in cars with their young children.
One of the saddest sights I see on the roadside, often outside schools in the morning, is a parent sitting in the front seat of a car smoking a cigarette with children in the vehicle. Often that includes a baby strapped securely in the back so they do not come to any harm on the journey.
For politicians to consider making it illegal has got to be a positive step forward in safeguarding the health of young children whose wellbeing – and long-term health – is being affected through no fault of their own.
It will not be popular with hardcore smokers, but to make it a criminal offence to smoke in cars in England when children are passengers is the right move – and long overdue, even though some motorists may regard their car as an extension of their home and private property.
Yet there is an area where we appear to be failing miserably.
We seem unable, and unwilling, to protect children in their own homes from being savaged by pit-bull type dogs masquerading as family pets.
In another horrific example, an 11-month-old girl was mauled to death by one such killer dog.
Parents, however responsible they think they are, rarely seem to factor in the unpredictability of animals and in particular the fact that these immensely powerful dogs have jaws and teeth that can maim an adult, let alone a toddler.
There is the feeble plea that the animal has never attacked a child, or anyone before, but that is a total irrelevance. A dog only needs to attack once in a household to cause horrific injuries or death to a child.
When we are so concerned about safeguarding children from reckless parents, shouldn’t we be looking at putting children born into a home where these savage dogs live on the social services “at risk” register. With a number of deadly attacks every year, can anyone argue they are not at risk?
Sadly, as with smoking in cars, however much legislation you put in place, there will always be those who flout the law or consider their pets are harmless when in fact both issues (smoking and dangerous dogs) have the potential to harm – and ultimately kill – the very children these parents bring into the world.
Over the years, successive governments have sought to act but still children are dying in their own homes after being attacked by family pets.
Whether legislation against both threats is the answer remains a point of debate, with some arguing that better education of the health risks, or dangers, is the solution.
But if parents really still need to be told that they should not smoke in front of their children in the enclosed space of a vehicle; if parents still need telling that bringing a newborn into a house where there is a predatory dog with jaws that can kill may lead to terrible tragedy, I suspect that education, however hard-hitting, is not going to have much impact.