STEPHEN POLLARD: Our family Jack Russell bit my mother's face off
STEPHEN POLLARD: Our beloved family Jack Russell bit my mother’s face off. That’s why we must go further than a ban on XL bullies
Some 50 years on, that scream of pain and terror still reverberates in my mind. Every so often the memory jumps unbidden into my brain and flattens me.
I can recall every detail as though it were yesterday. That’s what trauma does to you. When your mum’s face is bitten off by your family dog, you don’t forget it in a hurry.
I’ve been following the recent surge of stories about the dogs known as American XL bullies from a distance. I have to stay removed, as I simply can’t bear to think about what happened to my mother when I was a boy.
This is the first time I have written about what happened. I have never even told most of my friends.
It’s taken me until the age of 58 to face doing so. But what I did hear of the debate around whether to ban XL bullies made me despair. It entirely misses the point.
Of course, these dogs are dangerous. The clue is in the name: Bully. But singling out one breed as dangerous — however terrifying it may be — is dangerously wrong.
Let me tell you about Victor. Our sweet little dog was a Jack Russell terrier, a breed known for its cheeky, excitable nature. And that he certainly was.
Let me tell you about Victor. Our sweet little dog was a Jack Russell terrier, a breed known for its cheeky, excitable nature. And that he certainly was. Pictured: Stock photo
Of course, these dogs are dangerous. The clue is in the name: Bully. But singling out one breed as dangerous — however terrifying it may be — is dangerously wrong. Pictured: Stock photo
But he was also trained, obedient and good-natured. I loved him — we all did — and it seemed that he loved us. He was part of the family; he came everywhere with us. My school friends loved coming to play at our house, because Victor was there. He was a huge part of our lives.
That fateful evening, I was sitting watching TV. My mother was downstairs, ironing in the utility room. I can even remember the programme I was watching — the whole episode is seared into my memory. The theme song to Angels, a BBC hospital soap, had just started. After about ten seconds I heard the first piercing scream. More followed, accompanied by shouts and high-pitched, very loud crying. Thank God I was spared seeing it happen. It was bad enough hearing it and witnessing the grisly aftermath. I ran downstairs, to see my mother bleeding uncontrollably and in unimaginable pain. Her upper lip had been torn off her face.
Victor had bitten it clean away, and attacked again when my desperate mum pushed him away.
There was pandemonium as the horror of the situation took hold.
Victor had been keeping her company, as he often did, while she got on with the ironing. He had done nothing unusual and given no indication that he was upset, or even frisky.
All my mother had done was bend down to pick up some clothing from a basket on the floor. In a split-second he went for her, like a wild animal. No one could have foreseen it. Never before had he shown any signs that he might behave like this.
We called an ambulance. My mother’s cries did not abate until it arrived minutes later (these were the days when ambulances came more or less immediately).
By a stroke of good fortune, we lived a few minutes from Mount Vernon Hospital in London’s Northwood, which has one of the best plastic surgery units in the country.
My mother was operated on almost as soon as she arrived. To this day, I am in awe of the skill of the surgeons who rebuilt her lip from tissue and flesh taken from other parts of her body. The next morning, my father drove Victor to the vet to have him put down. It took months — years, really — for my mother to heal, but there came a point when, with make-up, you would not notice anything unusual about my mother’s lip from a casual glance.
Thank God I was spared seeing it happen. It was bad enough hearing it and witnessing the grisly aftermath. I ran downstairs, to see my mother bleeding uncontrollably and in unimaginable pain. Her upper lip had been torn off her face. Pictured: Stock photo
Mum today is an active and thriving 89-year-old. If you look closely at her face you might see that it seemed a little odd. But her physical recovery can never take away from the mental anguish of that entirely unprovoked and unexpected attack.
READ MORE: My American Bully XL may look scary… but I trust her with my nine-month-old – ‘heartbroken’ owners defend giant breed that has now been banned in UK after spate of vicious dog attacks
I am convinced there are lessons to be learned from the whole hideous business.
Victor was not an XL bully. But, had it been a baby in front of him, or small child, this chirpy, fun little pet could have become a killer. This is why I believe the proposed ban on XL bullies should only be a first step. Although, practically, it is a difficult one.
For a start, we have no way of knowing how many of these Bully dogs there are in the UK to ban.
That’s in part because XL bullies are not a recognised breed, so counting them is almost impossible. We don’t even know how many dogs there are in Britain.
This brings me to what I believe should be the second vital step to curb dog attacks, which in the past decade alone have soared by some 50 per cent against children.
It is vital that the Government brings back dog licences, so that every owner is forced to hold one for every dog they own. And if it is a new owner, they should have a licence in place before the dog is introduced into their home. This would provide essential and accurate information about how many dogs there are in this country, and what breeds they are.
For a start, we have no way of knowing how many of these Bully dogs there are in the UK to ban. Pictured: Stock photo
Dog licences were scrapped in England, Scotland and Wales in 1987, although they still exist in Northern Ireland. If you have dog licences, with stringently enforced rules so that anyone without one is prosecuted, you would not only find out how many dogs exist in Britain and what kind they are, you would also reduce the number of unsuitable owners and breeders. If an owner has what experts designate as one of the more dangerous breeds, they should be forced to undertake a training course.
I know full well that no amount of licences would have stopped Victor going for my mother. Sometimes, an animal’s primal instincts will simply take over.
But all too often, as we are seeing with XL bullies and similar breeds, owners encourage the dogs to be violent and intimidating, by the way they are trained and how they are bred.
Under a dog licensing scheme, these egregious owners would be found out and forced to give up their pets. And Britain’s streets would be the safer for it.
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