We start 2016 with the sad news of another death caused by a dog. The tragic loss of a young man, Liam Hewitson is also a story of families breeding and owning Pit Bull type dogs and the potential cause being a dog reacting to an epileptic seizure.
Edited update to police complaint at bottom of post 13/01/16
This is still a developing and raw story, sympathies should be given to the family who I don’t believe thought this was a possibility. Should they have realised? The breed, ultimately I feel is irrelevant, the need to own dogs of this type I think is relevant. It reflects on how the dogs are raised and trained, how they are treated and expected to behave and there are many more like them.
Family members have photos of potentially illegal dogs, breeding pairs and quotes from neighbours about the temperament of the dog that committed this attack as “changing over the last 6 months” for the worse. On facebook, pages have been “liked” by some of the family of breeders of these dogs with muscled up, posing dogs. People on social media are drawing their own conclusions as to why people want to own and breed illegal dogs, and also drawing conclusions based on hearsay.
It is a terrible event and the families must be devastated, but we will again learn nothing that can be used to help future attacks.
I have long pestered, campaigned and pressured DEFRA, MP’s and the minister responsible for several years. I get the same response, no matter how many deaths happen. They say the “law is adequate”, that there’s no need for more to be done. I feel this is so wrong as to be continuing to put people in danger deliberately.
For several years I have written about the need for a task force for fatalities. An expert behaviourist, vet and police who remove the dog immediately and assess whilst it is still alive. In this case, as in most and understandable to a point, the dog was immediately destroyed. There will be expert identification done to decide if the dog was Pitbull type, but nothing else. Once the dog is dead, the possibility of learning anything about the trigger is lost.
In one awful death of a young baby I even had the permission of the family and local MP to examine the dogs involved, who were alive in Police kennels for several days. Lip service was paid to my requests by the force and they destroyed the dogs.
In this latest awful case, it is alleged that Mr Hewitson suffered an epileptic seizure and that was when the dog attacked him. This is certainly possible, I have witnessed a similar incident. The dog was owned by his girlfriend who is devastated, they will all carry the emotional scars for ever.
However we will be reading all this again this year as we have for several years. The same people will use the stories to blame Pitbulls, they won’t read the real story, nothing will be learned and in a few days, everyone moves on. My frustration personally and professionally is beyond words. Every new death means I renew my cause and late last year was again pressuring my MP and the minister and got the same response.
- Why isn’t our government acting to protect people?
- Why isn’t there money for a task force?
- Why isn’t anyone listening to us professionals and acting to find out everything we need to know to prevent the next death?
Most of us with experience in dog behaviour are pretty sure about the reasons, but the public ignore us as we can’t prove it with enough information about these fatal attacks. The dogs are dead quickly, the owners and families aren’t asked the right questions, nobody puts cases together in a behaviour way.
Owners remain ignorant of, or simply ignore the warning behaviour signs, the changes that breeding can have on dogs and the need for proper training. There will be common denominators in the fatal cases that should be brought to the public’s attention. I also believe that where a dog kills or seriously injures someone, there should be potential for action against a breeder and the authorities if reports were ignored.
Sadly I’ll be posting again, I am sure there will be more fatalities this year, the government will again fail to act. I will keep on at this as I live in hope one day I will be listened to.
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RIP Liam Hewitson, I hope his family find their way to peace.
Edited 18.53 02/01/2016 to add:
A further release from the Police says no criminal investigation is taking place and they are treating this as a tragic accident. They say the victim suffered significant head and neck injuries. They go on to say the dog is a Pit Bull cross and therefore not an illegal breed.
This is wrong and many are posting on social media that this is not correct. Either the dog was examined and found not to be Pitbull type, or it is a proven Pit cross and therefore the owner and the breeder have technically committed offences. I have contacted Police, initially they stood by their release, but I have pointed out the consequences of misunderstandings and am awaiting another reply.
Edited 13/01/16 to add police reply:
This is the police response to my complaint about the description of the dog involved –
“I have reviewed your complaint in relation to the way the Constabulary described a dog that was involved in a tragic incident in Preston in December where a man sadly died. I wanted to provide you with some additional context which I hope will explain our rationale.
The dog involved in this tragic incident had previously been seized by police in 2014 and assessed by a Dog Liaison Officer (DLO). It did not have enough characteristics to classify it as a banned breed so was returned to the owners. The family have described it as a ‘pit bull cross’ and the vet who assessed it and dealt with it on the evening of the incident, also described it as a ‘pit bull type’ dog and agreed with the previous assessment that had been made by the DLO that the dog was not a banned breed. As I am sure you are aware, some cross breeds would be banned if assessed to have above a certain number of features but this depends on the individual dog.
We haven’t stated in any of our information that pit bull crosses aren’t a banned breed – we have referred to the dog involved in the incident and how that dog had been described specifically.
I hope this goes some way to explain our approach and ss such, we don’t intend to make any changes to the website information as it is factually correct.