RIGA - Twenty-one, of which 11 have been recognized as dangerous, is the official number of dogs that have bitten people in Riga so far this year. This figure has almost doubled from 2008, when it was just 11, Food and Veterinary Surveillance Department (FVS) statistics show.
To prevent these types of attacks, countries establish public orders for regulations on how to control dog behavior in city centers. In the case of Riga, it is public order no. 80, which states that in confined areas dogs must be walked on a leash. However, many say that it is common to see dogs going around without leashes, though this is most common if they are considered not of the dangerous type.
One dog owner, Andrejs (not his real name), takes his three little dogs for a walk at least twice a day, most of the time without a leash. “When I am in a park I always take off the leash, because I feel that [the dogs] need freedom and I know that I can control their behavior (…), but I am concerned that this action is illegal, regarding the [law].”
There are green zones, fenced-in areas around the city specifically built for letting dogs run freely.
The law is especially strong for those dogs considered to be dangerous - large breeds - and they must wear a muzzle as well when in public spaces. And it is this group of dog where the police and FVS are most focused on.
But people are still being bitten in the city by dogs that run wild, are off of the leash and aren’t wearing a muzzle.
The Riga Municipal Police say that their duty is in attending to citizens’ calls and complaints about situations of ‘real’ danger. “The police react when some dog attacks a person, but [until then], when it is the case of a dog that is just considered dangerous, it is [24-hour veterinary clinic] ‘Dr. Beinerts’ which takes the case, as there isn’t any specialized group in our organization [for this],” states Egils Vidriks, chief of the Prevention, Coordination and Statistics Department at Rigas’s Municipal Police department. ‘Dr. Beinerts’ has been open since 2004 as a veterinary community of workers providing, along with other services, emergency attendance to dog bite victims, as is written on its homepage.
Punishing dog owners
However, Vidriks states that reducing the number of dog bites is more related to the owners’ cooperation. In most countries the law has been modified to take more into account the owner’s responsibility for these pets that are considered aggressive. Italy has gone further, considering all kinds of dog varieties equal. In 2011 Italy decided to change the law, with the new one that is hoped will stop irresponsible owners. Similar regulations exist in Great Britain and the Netherlands. “Maybe Riga needs a regulation like that,” states Vidriks.
Microchip control system
The FVD believes that one of the biggest problems for public safety has been the lack of enforcement of a microchip controlling system, which was first referred to in the 2008 law concerning dangerous dogs.
All European Union countries and many others require that dogs have a microchip implanted under their skin, for identification purposes. The world standard microchip, known as ISO 11784/11785, is a chip holding a code made up of 15 unencryped digits.
The microchip is a device the size of a grain of rice, inserted under the skin of the animal by a single subcutaneous injection. When one of these devices is implanted, the pet’s owner receives a certificate, with a barcode, signed by the veterinarian. The microchip ties together the owner and dog. “With the chip locator system the police could identify the owner of each dog running about wildly without a leash, and be more efficeint in fulfilling the law” declares Vidriks.
Owners would, goes the thinking, be more careful about letting their dogs run about unattended.
From July 1 of this year, the new Latvian regulation requires dogs to have this embedded internal microchip.
More information channels
The new regulation bolstered the existing law: a new method for the evaluation of potentially dangerous dogs by the FVS evaluative comission, more requirements to be followed by pet owners, and new channels of information for public.
“There is a lack of information about the requirements for dog owners,” says Iveta Kocina, senior expert at FVS. She and her colleague Armands Dauburs, head of the veterinary objects supervillance division at FVS, consider that the Ministry of Agriculture has to provide more information concerning the laws and organize in a more effective way the instititution’s responsibilities in providing this information to pet owners.
On this point, Kocina remarks on the city’s need in strengthening cooperation between the Municipal Police and the FVS. “The police also have to be able to cooperate at the same level as the FVS in [ensuring] public safety, when it comes to dogs.”
Jelena, a Riga resident, would agree. Walking with her little dog, called Diego, who has an embedded microchip, through a park last week, she had a rather large German Shepherd tagging closely along, running freely with no owner in sight. She expressed feeling a bit frightened of the situation, and affirmed that it made her think about her own, and other citizens’ public safety in the street.