Every year close to two thousand people in the Czech Republic are attacked by aggressive dogs. In the past nine years ten people have been mauled to death in such attacks. For years Czech lawmakers, vets and dog psychologists have debated possible ways of curbing this form of violence -but have never been able to agree on a widely acceptable solution. Now, the Constitutional Court has moved to resolve the problem, making dog owners directly responsible for their pets' behaviour.
Hardly a week goes by in the Czech Republic without the media reporting on an attack by an aggressive dog. In many cases these attacks are targeted against children who unwittingly provoke the animals in an attempt to play with them.
But increasingly there have been attacks against owners themselves - in Liberec, north Bohemia, a pit bull savagely attacked his master and only let up when a police officer who happened to be close by fired his gun and wounded the animal. Another dog owner in the town of Rychnov in east Bohemia was less fortunate - his pit bull mauled him to death before help could arrive. The Constitutional Court has now drawn the line, ruling that in future all owners will be held responsible for any physical injury inflicted by their pet - and could serve up to two years in jail for it. Jan Svacek, chairman of the Prague city court, says the ruling sets an important precedent and will greatly improve the legal position of future victims.
"The state will now be fully responsible for launching criminal proceedings against the owner of a dog who has physically harmed someone. In the past the victims themselves could only take the matter to court if they wanted compensation. Now they will be in a much stronger and easer position."
Vets and dog psychologists who had vehemently opposed proposals to ban so-called "dangerous breeds" say this is a sound decision. They insist that in 99 percent of cases the attacks happen because the dog has not been properly trained or has been trained to be extremely aggressive. Vladimira Ticha is an expert in the field.
"A dog would not attack for no reason. There is always something behind it - the way it has been trained or the way it has been treated, whether it has been starved or beaten. A dog which has been properly trained and is treated well is truly man's best friend."
Canine experts say that the ideal solution would be for the owners of aggressive dogs to get professional help at dog behavioural consultancy centres - protecting themselves as well as others. The new ruling will not put any pressure on them to do so but it will at least help protect people in the neighbourhood. The message sent by the Constitutional Court is clear - if you can't control your dog keep him locked up because you will be held responsible for any physical damage your pet might inflict.
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