More than seven months after a petition signed by over 139 000 people calling for a ban of pit bulls as domestic pets in SA was handed over to Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Minister Thoko Didiza, the department says testing is still being conducted.
This comes after three recent incidents where residents in and around Durban were attacked by pit bulls. On Tuesday a general employee from Gordon Road Girls' School in Windermere was seriously injured after he was attacked by two pit bulls while allegedly attempting to save a pupil and a teacher's assistant from the dogs.
Last week Johannes Lewis, 47, was killed in an attack in Lutzville in the Western Cape by four pit bulls Matzikama Local Municipality said had attacked other people on the same day.
The controversial “Ban pit bulls as domestic pets in South Africa” petition was started by the Sizwe Kupelo Foundation, a non-profit organisation that advocates for vulnerable children, in 2022 following an attack which resulted in the death of a 10-year-old in Nelson Mandela Bay.
The petition, which has garnered more than 139 700 signatures to date, was handed over to the minister in April.
Department spokesperson Reggie Ngcobo said the Canine Behavioural Assessment and Research Questionnaire (CBARQ) had not yet been completed.
“The testing has not been concluded yet and at this moment the research is still going on. Once concluded, the department will inform the public and the foundation,” he said.
He said the intention of this testing was not to prevent dog attacks but to assist to implement necessary processes to deal with dog behaviours including determination of the root cause and the specific breed of dog that was causing damages.
“It is critically important to undertake research to determine if indeed the damage-causing dogs are pit bulls or not. Many other dogs may cause similar injuries to the owners and/or to strangers. It is also very important to understand that the dog owners may negatively or positively influence behaviour of dogs.
“Some dogs may be trained to be vicious and attack everything that passes by or be properly socialised and respect human beings,” Ncgobo.
Ncgobo said the research would include genetic testing.
Animal behaviour expert Dr Quixi Sonntag said focusing on one breed would not address the problem properly.
“It must be understood that any dog can potentially bite a person, that dogs with a certain physique are stronger than others and those with powerful jaw muscles can cause a lot of damage, so the focus should rather be on large breeds in general. Small dogs like Maltese and Jack Russell terriers are also known to bite people, but obviously the amount of injury they can cause is far less,” she said.
Sonntag said this was a public health concern.
“In my opinion the health sector and veterinary sector should collaborate on 1) establishing a good database so that risk factors (including breed) can be objectively studied in a scientific way and 2) embarking on an ongoing awareness and educational campaign to help prevent dog bites,” she said.
In addition, Sonntag said this was a societal issue where aggression cycles played a role. “This issue cannot be addressed merely by focusing on a breed of dog, when the dogs that are responsible for the injuries and deaths are in the hands of irresponsible humans.”
She noted that not all dogs of these breeds would show inappropriate and severe aggression.
“There are many dogs of these breeds that have excellent, stable temperaments and do not show inappropriate aggression, including pit bulls,” said Sonntag.