Britain considers banning pit bull imports after brutal attack


LONDON -- The government came under intense pressure to ban imports of pit bull terriers yesterday after a 6-year-old girl was mauled, the latest in a series of vicious attacks that has fueled alarm in this nation of dog-lovers.

Rucksana Khan was being treated for shattered ribs, a lacerated lung, broken nose, two broken teeth and multiple bite wounds after she was attacked last weekend.

It was the 10th serious dog attack this year, five of them by pit bull terriers, which are specially bred for fighting.

The surgeon treating her joined the increasing call for the banning of fighting dogs. Her attack has caused particular outrage becauseof nationally screened television pictures of her in her hospital bed.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals warned that unless a ban was imposed, it was only a matter of time before one of the estimated 10,000 pit bull terriers in Britain killed someone.

The Society has been pressing for a ban on ownership of the dogs since they were first imported from the United States in 1977.

Richard Davies, of the RSPCA, said yesterday, "When one of those dogs attacks, it attacks to kill. It doesn't attack to give one bite or two bites, it attacks to kill its prey."

He said any owner of a dog that killed should be charged with manslaughter. No action can be taken under current law against the owner of the dog that attacked Rucksana Khan because the dog was destroyed immediately after the incident. The dog must be alive in order for the owner to be prosecuted.

Home Secretary Kenneth Baker said he would meet officials of the RSPCA and the Kennel Club to discuss the feasibility of a total ban on fighting dogs. The government also was considering introducing compulsory third party insurance for owners of fighting dogs, and new powers for courts to enforce the muzzling of vicious dogs and to make owners accountable for their dogs' behavior.

But Mr. Baker noted that many dogs were cross-breeds and that the owners could go to court to contest the imposition of any ban. The government recently resisted having a national dog register on the ground that owners of vicious dogs would simply avoid registering.

"I certainly want to take action because the attack yesterday was appalling. But I only want to take action that will work," Mr. Baker told the BBC.

Anthony Beaumont-Dark, the member of Parliament for Birmingham, where the girl was attacked, criticized Mr. Baker for stressing what could not be done.

"I would rather a few innocent dogs die than a few innocent children were savaged," said Mr. Beaumont-Dark, who was attacked by a Rottweiler two years ago.

"These dogs are not pets. They are weapons, and they have got to be stopped right now, not the day after tomorrow. The longer nothing is done, the more innocent people will be savaged."

The opposition Labor home affairs spokesman, Roy Hattersley, said his party would ban ownership of pit bull terriers and Rottweilers if they won the next election.

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