Editorial: Talk's cheap, care is not

YOUNG VICTIM: Sakurako Uehara, 7, who was savagely attacked by four dogs in Murupara on Monday.
YOUNG VICTIM: Sakurako Uehara, 7, who was savagely attacked by four dogs in Murupara on Monday.

During the past week, the photograph has become a familiar one.

It is of a little girl in a pink top, with a ponytail perched on top of her shiny black bobbed hair.

Her name is Sakurako Uehara, she is Japanese, and she is 7 years old.

And on Monday afternoon, while playing in the back yard of the home of family friends in Murupara, she was mauled by four dogs, and has been in Middlemore Hospital ever since. She is likely to be there a long time.

It is a horrific story. Doctors have explained the little girl has more than 100 bites, and would have been conscious throughout the attack. Her facial injuries are particularly distressing.

And, as should always be the case, this latest dog attack has put dog owners, their dogs, and how we interact with them, under scrutiny.

There is always a place for informed, considered debate. Unfortunately, much of the discussion is likely to be emotive, ill-considered and based on flawed information.

Statistics will be bandied about, labradors will be outed as biters - notwithstanding their popularity as a family pet likely skewing the figures. Is there a breakdown of severity of incidents? Is a nip from a family pet whose dinner was under threat distinguishable from a pack attack that has left a child fighting for her life?

What about the degree of risk? A small dog with a weak jaw might be bad-tempered and snappy, but unable to inflict serious harm. A larger dog with a powerful bite and locking jaw has far more potential for damage.

A number of dogs together can behave in a way none are likely to when they're on their own.

There will be calls to ban certain breeds and to vet owners. Councils will be criticised for a perceived lack of enforcement, there will be discussion on how we educate children to be safe around dogs.

All are valid issues to raise, but none are likely to be the silver bullet that will guarantee there is never another attack like this one.

And none of the discussion will help little Sakurako and her family. What will help them is support and money. And, to this country's credit, that has been forthcoming, more than $65,000 donated so far.

If everyone who chose to comment on the story, to argue about what should be done, to criticise dog owners, or to vehemently defend them, was to make a donation at the same time to the fund, then that would guarantee something positive comes out of the debate.

The Timaru Herald