The Death of 4-Year-Old Lexi Branson Furthers Legal Debate over Dogs in Great Britain
Violent dogs have been a big issue in the British news media this year, thanks largely to the mauling death of 14-year-old Jade Lomas-Anderson in March. Only a few days ago, I wrote about how Lomas-Anderson's death has inspired legislation to give extended prison sentences to the owners of dogs that attack humans. And now, another tragic death has seized the attention of the media: four-year-old Lexi Branson, who was attacked and killed by her family's dog when she was staying home from school because of an illness.
The details of Lexi Branson's death are still murky. There have been a lot of contradictions and misinformation flying around. For instance, a photo of Lexi Branson cuddling with a large Mastiff has been published by several media outlets. Police are now saying that the dog in the picture is not the one that killed her. Various media sites have reported the dog's breed as being either Pit Bull or Bulldog, but the official police statements have said that they don't know what the breed was, except that they don't think it was one that's banned by the Dangerous Dogs Act. One statement from the Leicester police vaguely says that they're "classifying it as a Bulldog."
So, making sure that our B.S. meters are well-calibrated, especially when dealing with anything printed in the Daily Mail or the Daily Mirror, here are the best facts that can be gleaned right now.
On Tuesday, Lexi was staying home from school, when the dog, named Mulan, attacked her. The reasons for the attack are still unknown. Mulan was a rescue dog thought to be about six or eight years old who had been living in the Branson household only for a few months. When Mulan attacked Lexi, her mother stabbed the dog several times with a kitchen knife, trying to save her daughter. The dog died of the wounds, and Lexi was declared dead at a hospital.
Police are still trying to piece together the dog's history and the events that led to the attack. Detective Superintendent David Sandall told BBC News that, "We're still continuing the investigation and we're going to look completely at the history of where the dog's come from, how it's come into the family environment, and we're doing the investigation on behalf of the coroner who, obviously, we have to show the events leading up to the death of Lexi."
A statement from Lexi's mother and grandmother remembered her as "a bubbly, bright little girl."
"She fought for her life from the moment she was born as she was born three months prematurely," the statement said. "She's been taken from us so tragically."
Dog trainer Ryan O'Meara says that the death of Lexi shows that there's a greater need to promote education of dog owners instead of passing more punitive laws. O'Meara believes that the Dangerous Dogs Act panders to fears because it focuses too much on certain breeds being dangerous, when any dog can become aggressive in the right circumstances.
In a commentary in the Mirror, O'Meara said that: "[W]hat I have noticed over the last decade is that while breed is almost irrelevant, the circumstances behind all attacks are frighteningly similar. What I mean by that is that the dog in question is nearly always on its own property when the attack happens; 100 percent of the time it is a family pet; and usually the dog is not that well known to the victim. ... The owner of the dog is almost always not present, and these four circumstances are far more common than the breed of the dog.
"For that reason, the legislation we have got from 1991 is bad because the focus is on the breed. I would go so far as to say this actually increases the likelihood of a dog attack, because by highlighting certain types of dog, it suggests that all other dogs are not dangerous."
O'Meara also mentions that dog attacks are common around the new year, as well as Bonfire Night, part of Guy Fawkes Day celebrations in Britain on Nov. 5. A traditional part of the celebrations is to light large bonfires around the city and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Several media outlets have also tried to connect the mauling to the excitement around the holiday, but so far, there's only speculation.
Via BBC News