Does Germany have an issue with aggressive attack canines?
“My wife’s death was horrific and pointless,” the elderly plaintiff said outside a court in southern Germany on Tuesday.
The man was speaking during a pause in the trial of two people whose dog mauled his wife to death on the street in Baden-Württemberg last May.
The 72-year-old woman was walking down a street in the small town of Sigmaringen when the dog broke free from its collar and launched itself at her.
The Kangal, a breed considered dangerous in Germany, pulled the pensioner to the ground before repeatedly biting her head and throat. Although a medic arrived at the scene, he was unable to treat the woman, as the dog continued its attack. Only a bullet from the gun of a police officer put an end to the attack - and the dog’s life. But by then it was too late to save the woman.
Prosecutors have charged the animal’s owners with negligent manslaughter, arguing that its living conditions were unsatisfactory. Officers who arrived at the house later on the day of the attack reported a filthy and pokey environment.
Three fatalities this year
The trial is just the latest reminder of the potential dangers of attack dogs.
In April a Staffordshire mix bit its owners - a disabled woman and her 27-year-old son - to death in Hanover. Less than a week later a fighting dog bit its owner's seven-month-old son to death in Hesse.
And in the same month, two men set their Pitbull terrier upon a Turkish man on the street in Berlin. The dog owners reportedly racially abused the man before ordering their dog to bite him.
It is hard to discern from criminal statistics whether dog attacks are becoming more of a problem in Germany.
While nationwide statistics are not compiled, figures for Baden-Württemberg indicate that dog attacks have risen considerably in the southern state in recent years. In 2017, some 1,433 attacks on people were recorded, meaning a rise of 20 percent since 2013.
Not all states show a rise in the threat from dangerous dogs, though. Attacks in Berlin have stayed more or less steady over the past six years at between 500 and 600 that lead to injury annually.
Laws on dog ownership also vary from state to state. Some states have banned certain breeds of “attack dogs” - canines considered to be particularly capable of inflicting injury. But other states attempt to control the prevalence of such dogs through higher taxation. For more on the dog tax click here.
Meanwhile, the only aspect of dog ownership controlled at the federal level is that Pitbull terriers and Staffordshire terriers cannot be imported into the country.
A dog licence?
At the trial on Tuesday, the deceased woman’s husband said it was time that Germany tightened its laws, arguing that people should have to first obtain a licence before they are allowed to keep a dog.
“There are rules and regulations for everything else in Germany,” he said.
The German police union (DpolG) also take the view that attacks by fighting dogs need to be taken more seriously.
“We are pushing for police officers to have the best possible body armour so that a confrontation with an attack dog doesn’t become life threatening,” Sven-Erik Wecker, head of DpolG, told The Local.
Wecker also warned that current regulations for attack dogs, such as the necessity to keep them on a line, are insufficient.
The laws don’t work “if the owner doesn’t just see the dog as a status symbol but also intends to use it to deter or provoke people around them,” he said.
For Wecker the danger is clear: “From the point of view of the police, certain breeds of dog can be compared in their danger to a weapon.”
Not everyone agrees that it is time to toughen up the law though.
Tthe Association for German Dogs countered that creating dog holding licences wasn’t the answer, arguing this would discriminate against older dog lovers.
“We want dog owners who are competent, but that needs to be achieved on a voluntary basis,” said association spokeswoman Birgit Büttner.
Büttner told The Local that there was no proof that dog attacks had increased nationwide in recent years, instead calling for a relaxation of the laws on attack dogs.
“The law needs to be changed to abolish the listing of some breeds as dangerous,” she said. “All experts agree that the danger of a dog has nothing to do with its breed. There are no dangerous breeds, only dangerous people.”
Instead, she said that authorities need to be more stringent in taking dogs away from their owners if its behaviour is reported as being aggressive.
At court in Baden-Württemberg on Tuesday the dog’s owners apologized through their lawyer for the killing, insisting that they never believed the animal was capable of such an act of aggression.
But the apology was of little consolation to the elderly widower.
“I’m not the right person to address your apology to. Really you should have been apologizing to my wife,” he said, fighting back his tears.