by Claire Harvey, Rendezview
THERE'S nothing so sweet as a puppy, snuggling his little head into my lap, putting his tiny paw on my foot, licking my ears with his rosebud tongue, sinking his razor-sharp baby teeth into my hand, crash-tackling our other dog, munching electrical cables, attacking the garden hose.
Our new pup loves children, especially when they scream and run away so he can chase them round and round the garden, dropping their toast and howling.
He's a blue heeler. And despite the flesh wounds and mildly traumatised kids, we do love him.
Admitting to buying a purebred dog is the modern urban equivalent of double-parking in a disabled spot.
But the experience of looking after an energetic puppy has made me realise how deeply dogs' breeding determines their behaviour. A cattle dog is a working animal, bred for obedience and intelligence over hundreds of years. Our new pup is hard work; but we know, with love and training, he'll grow up to be a good, safe, trustworthy dog.
And that's why you don't often find unwanted cattle dogs languishing in pounds.
The pounds and animal rescue centres, if you've had a look lately, are packed to the rafters with pit bulls of one kind or another: English Staffordshire bull terriers, American staffies (Amstaffs) and crossbreeds - part pit bull, part rottweiler and other similarly romantic couplings.
And why are the shelters packed with pitbulls? Because people who don't understand, or don't care much, about dogs have given them up or just kicked them out of the gate when they become unmanageable. These dogs are so physically powerful, so strong-willed and so disinclined to tolerate other dogs that they can become totally unsuited for life in a city.
Humans have spent a century carefully selecting pit bulls for their most dominant trait: aggression. They were bred to fight other dogs, to bait bulls and to bring down prey. Now dogfighting and bullbaiting are illegal, our suburbs are full of amped-up canine killing machines with no hobbies.
Sure, with a lot of training and attention I know pit bulls can become highly responsive, responsible dogs who aren't a danger to the community.
But pit bulls' innate aggression makes them attractive to people who have no ability to properly care for them, or even to get them desexed: hence the generations of unwanted pups.
Each year the NSW Government publishes dog attack statistics and in the most recent June quarter figures, just like every other report, pit bulls are right at the top of the list. Staffordshire Bull Terriers and their crossbreeds were the subject of 164 dog-attack reports to NSW councils during the quarter, followed by American Staffordshire terriers and their crossbreeds with 152 reports. Kelpies and kelpie crosses were 56, Australian cattle dogs and rottweilers came in next with 54 each, followed by 53 involving German Shepherds and Bull mastiffs with 24. Even Jack Russells (17 attacks), Labrador retrievers (17) and Border Collies (15) make the grade.
Bear in mind these figures are only alleged attacks reported to council, defined by the Office of Local Government as 'any incident where a dog rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses or chases any person or animal (other than vermin), whether or not any injury is caused to the person or animal.'
There were minor or no injuries reported in 484 of the 1148 attacks, and medical treatment required in 139 and hospitalisation in 31 cases.
So here's my bet. The dog 'attacks' that involved some minor park-scuffle or low-level nip on the hand were the ones committed by border collies, cattle dogs and labradors.
The serious, terrifying attacks - where toddlers are disfigured for life, or elderly people are dragged to the ground and half-eaten, were the pit bulls.
One day, despite all our efforts, our sweet little doggy may very well sink his fangs into someone's finger or chase a Shih tzu. But I'm willing to bet he will never rip a child's arm off, or kill an old lady. He's just not bred for it.