Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE tragic death of a Bulawayo male after an attack by his two Boerboels has put the spotlight on pet lovers’ enthusiasm to buy mostly dangerous and aggressive dog breeds, albeit without regard to their traits.
Mr John Gavhera, from Selbourne Park in Bulawayo, was mauled by his two boerboels last Thursday after they reportedly mistook him for an intruder.
His neighbors watched helplessly as the vicious dogs attacked him when he unexpectedly returned from work at midday to retrieve a forgotten toolbox.
Almost two months ago, a 7-year-old ECD student from Madzimoyo Farm in Hurungwe district in Karoi, West Mashonaland, died after being mauled by a suspected rabid family dog, leaving his face unrecognizable.
The deceased minor was attacked by the vicious dog at the family homestead. Two years ago, a Bulawayo woman, Ms. Cherish Muchegwa of the suburb of West Somerton, made headlines after her landlady’s five dogs mauled her.
Ms Muchegwa had just entered the gate of her shelter when the dogs ran to her before attacking her, tearing flesh from her arms and legs. With the support of Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Raj Modi, Ms Muchengwa was flown to India for surgery, where she spent three months at Kiran Hospital.
While dogs are designed to protect people, dog trainers and experts warn that some of the breeds can be aggressive towards people, including their owners. Breeds that are considered aggressive and dangerous include Boerboels, Pitbulls, and Rottweilers, among others.
The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) animal welfare officer Ms Berry Oosthuizen said animal lovers should not own aggressive dogs without first understanding their behavior and temperament.
“Dogs that typically attack people are Boerboels, mainly because most dog owners don’t understand this type of breed. These dogs are not a breed that should be confined in small cages or kept in small lots because that makes them aggressive,” she said.
“They get frustrated and that’s why they end up biting people. No dog is born aggressive, only made aggressive by people who don’t understand it properly. There is a need to educate the public on how to keep dogs properly.”
Ms Oosthuizen said that isolating dogs from people is another factor that contributes to dog aggressiveness.
“All dogs need to be socialized with their families, but unfortunately many of these dogs are caged and not allowed to see anyone, and when they do they become aggressive,” she said.
Ms Oosthuizen said the dogs that attacked their owner at Selborne Park did not know who the man was.
“They mistook him for an intruder after he jumped over the wall. Of course, a dog would attack anyone not entering the property through the gate. He should have spoken to the dogs, or at least called them by name, before jumping into the yard. That was more of a human error than an animal one,” she said.
Bulawayo dog trainer Mr Graig Rossen said socialization is important for dog owners.
“Your dogs need regular socialization and unfortunately most people own dogs for the wrong reasons.
“Dogs, just like other animals, have instincts, so you have to connect with them from the start,” he said.
“Learning about dog breeds is also important because different breeds have different individual traits and characteristics. Mixed breed dogs often show mixed traits as well.”
The ZRP Bulawayo Canine Section official in charge, Inspector Mzimkhulu Ncube, said that they choose the Labrador Retriever and the German Shepherd because of their noble character, loyalty, curiosity, high intellect and obedience as opposed to Boerboels and Pitbulls. German shepherds are used for patrol while Labrador retrievers fall under sniffer dogs (DD), which are used for sniffing out drugs and explosives, among other things.
They are specially trained to assist police officers and other law enforcement agencies in their duties. Tasks include finding drugs and explosives, searching for missing persons, finding evidence at the scene of a crime, dispersing rioters, and attacking those targeted by police.
“Actually, we prefer dogs that we train to get what we want, that’s why we have Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds in the police force. Boerboels and Pitbulls easily forget which is why we don’t keep them,” said Insp Ncube.
“In most cases, these are the same dogs that attack people in homes because they are jealous. Once these dogs bond with their owner, they become aggressive and attack anyone who gets close to him or her.”
Insp Ncube said Boerboels are more dangerous and hostile, especially towards children.
“Boerboels don’t want their owners to be close to anyone, and in most cases they will attack children, mistaking them for rivals. Pit bulls originally came from the United States of America and the United Kingdom, where they were used in dog fighting competitions and people used to enjoy watching them fight,” he said.
“However, because of their viciousness, such breeds are no longer favored in these countries, but surprisingly they have become a hit in Zimbabwe. These dogs are very dangerous because they are jealous and once a Boerboel realizes that you are the only one feeding him, that means no one else should feed him because he would have bonded with you.”
Regarding the incident at Selbourne Park, Insp Ncube said there was a possibility the two Boerboels could have killed their owner because of the lack of bond between the animals and the owner.
“The dogs could have mistaken their owner for an enemy and attacked him, especially after he jumped over the concrete wall. That’s usually the behavior of boerboels and pit bulls,” he said.
“You can train a Boerboel, but the nature of a Boerboel is that you can’t remove that element of jealousy and the person who would have trained it is the only one who can handle it. They are different from the German shepherds, which you can actually introduce to the other family members, and they can also tell that person is a part of us, unlike Boerboels and Pitbulls.”
Insp Ncube has singled out Boerboels, Pitbulls and Rottweilers as breeds that are not ideal for homes.
“Rottweilers have a natural instinct to protect their families and can be fierce in their defense. It’s important to channel their power and protective instincts by providing early socialization, firm, fair, consistent training and guidance, and a regular job,” he said.
“If this isn’t done, rottweilers can become dangerous bullies rather than the companionable guards they’re meant to be.”
One Bulawayo dog trainer who disliked wearing a mane said, “Rottweilers walk a fine line between being protective and being aggressive. Unless carefully bred to have a calm, intelligent temperament, and properly socialized and trained, they can become overly protective.”
“As such, one of the most important things we can do is to help our dogs behave. That means they have to get along with other people, other dogs, and a whole range of situations. Otherwise, dogs may become anxious or exhibit other problematic behaviors.”