PET lover Emily Tan was at the veterinary clinic with her four-year-old beagle, Rocky, when she met a dog owner she'll never forget.
Tan, 30, recalls that Rocky, a friendly and inquisitive dog, had tried to give the young, well-dressed woman a sniff when she recoiled in fear and backed against the wall.
“She was afraid Rocky would bite, but I assured her that he's a very friendly dog. Her reply was He's very big',” says Tan.
When she asked the woman if she knew how big her dog would grow into, she in turn asked if the puppy would be bigger than Rocky. Speechless, Tan could only nod in reply. The reason? The puppy was a rottweiler.
“She had obviously not taken the trouble to research the breed of puppy she had ... she could be headed for trouble,” Tan says.
And that is precisely the problem with many Malaysian dog owners, says Pet Positive president Anthony Thanasayan.
Too often, pet owners here do not do their homework and research before bringing a dog home.
“I always tell people to take their time. See which breed suits their lifestyle. If you have a lazy lifestyle, for example, getting a dobermann would be a huge mistake. You also have to consider the dog's personality, temperament and size. Can you handle your dog's size? If your dog is sick, can you carry him to the vet? Is your car big enough to accommodate the dog?
“Getting a dog must never be a spontaneous decision. It's just like if you're planning for a child, you need to think of your living arrangements, your finances, everything. A puppy is a commitment for the next 15 years,” Anthony explains.
An owner and trainer of four service dogs two German shepherds, a dobermann and a Shetland sheepdog Anthony firmly believes in responsible ownership.
“Everyone has the right to walk in public and not fear that he might get attacked by a dog. If that happens, it's the owner who holds all responsibility. The owner has to be the one to take charge and be in control of his/her dog. It would be a terrible thing if a dog is allowed to run out on its own and make its own decisions.
“What if it attacks someone or another animal, or it gets knocked down by a vehicle? On the other hand, don't go the extreme to cage and tie up your dog all the time. A dog that does not socialise will only become a monster,” he says.
Being a responsible owner also means getting your dog trained, says seasoned dog trainer Edmund de Run, who advocates training for all dogs, regardless of breed.
“You might understand your dog, but your dog doesn't understand you unless he's been trained. Every dog needs to be trained, it's just a matter of what level of training.
“If you have a dog, you can always get a trainer to assess your dog, and give his views. The trainer will be able to tell if he thinks you can control the dog. If you can't, it's better to find him a home where the owner can train and control him, than for him to end up attacking someone,” says de Run, who has been training dogs for the police force and the army since the 1960s.
De Run, who has long worked with working dogs (such as German shepherds, Belgian shepherds and rottweilers), adds that knowing a dog's history is also important.
“If you buy an adult dog, you have to know its history and background the environment he grew up in, who his previous owners are, what they are like. One way to easily do that is to make sure dogs are microchipped, so that their history can be easily tracked.”
Equally crucial is getting the dog from a responsible breeder, who breeds from proper bloodlines. Bad breeding, or too much in-breeding, he says, can often lead to dogs with bad temperament or aggressive and/or destructive behaviour.
Dog aggression made headlines on Tuesday after a jogger, 74-year-old Yip Sun Wah, was bitten in the neck and ear by a licensed three-year-old dog in his residential area at SS19, Subang Jaya, Selangor. He died on the spot.
The dog has been identified by the Veterinary Services Department (DVS) as a miniature bull terrier cross, a restricted breed in Malaysia. Such breeds (like the English bull terrier) are allowed to be kept as guard dogs provided they are given proper training.
In Yip's case, the dog owner has been slapped with a RM1,000 (S$409) fine by MPSJ. The case is still being investigated by the police under Section 304(A) of the Penal Code for negligence to the extent of causing death. The dog is now with the Selangor Veterinary Services Department pending further action.
Seven dog breeds the akita, Neapolitan mastiff, American bulldog, dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Japanesa tosa and the American pit bull have been banned from import and export activities in Malaysia. DVS imposed the ban last April after they were deemed to be “unmanageable or possibly dangerous”.
But banning the breed is not a solution, says German dog trainer Juergen Knobel.
“It won't stop smugglers from bringing the dogs in. People who want the dogs will still find a way to get them. The only difference is they will probably have to pay twice the price. It only makes the smugglers richer,” he says.
Knobel, who has had some 45 years of handling and training dogs, adds that it's not the breed but the handler who determines whether a dog ends up being dangerous.
“I have trained more than 35 pit bulls, and they have never bitten anyone. in the hands of people who know how to handle them, they are harmless dogs.
“Over here, you keep hearing how these dogs attack people. In Europe, many families have pit bulls, but you hardly ever hear of such cases,” he says.
In Germany, for instance, those who want to keep pit bulls have to attend a special school where they are first taught how to handle and train the dogs. “It's like getting a driver's licence. If you can't handle the dog, you can't have it,” he says.
Dog ownership also comes with serious legal repercussions, says lawyer and MBPJ councillor Derek Fernandez.
Fernandez explains that when things go awry, action can be taken under three branches of the law criminal law, civil law and municipal by-laws. For example, dog owners can be charged under provisions of the Penal Code for criminal negligence. Under municipal by-laws, they can be fined.
“Further, under the civil law, a victim of a dog attack also has common law rights. They can sue the dog owner and claim compensation. If there is loss of life, even a claim of up to RM1mil or RM2mil would be reasonable. It should act as a deterrent human lives shouldn't be cheap.
“Under the law, every dog owner has to exercise reasonable care over his dog. And if he knows that he owns a dangerous breed, then the standards for reasonable care is higher, isn't it?” he says.
The trainers concur that ownership is not a subject to be taken lightly. As Anthony puts it: “If you don't want to do your homework, and if you're not willing to commit, don't get a dog. Get an alarm system.”