The phrase “Innocent until proven guilty” is clearly lost on the British press. For as the news broke on Wednesday 6th November that four year old Lexi Branson had been killed by a dog, the photographs accompanying articles in both national and local publications were that of a Dogue De Bordeaux, otherwise known as a French Mastiff.
Despite not having a confirmation of the breed, the Daily Mail included a small collection of ‘frightening’ facts about French Mastiffs, under the subtitle “Fearsome Cattle Guards”. Readers were unable to overlook the huge photograph of Lexi and the dog, which is now believed to belong to a friend of Lexi’s mother, Jodi Branson. Towards the end of the article, the reporter mentions that police officers had said that the dog was not thought to be listed under the Dangerous Dogs Act. If Leicestershire Police had not yet confirmed the breed, how did the Daily Mail know it was a French Mastiff? The truth was, they didn’t. Neither did many other papers, yet this did not stop them publishing different photographs of Lexi with the dog.
A day later and photographs of a different dog altogether replace those of the French Mastiff. This time it is the dog responsible for the attack. The dog, described as a “Bulldog”, was adopted by Jodi Branson from a rescue centre a few weeks earlier. It is thought that the centre had made it clear that the dog was unsuitable for rehoming with children; confusion over why Branson wanted a dog described as such, and why the centre allowed her to take the dog, appears to have been overshadowed by the original identification hiccup and the continued speculation around the dog’s breed. Other factors, such as that of the flat where the dog was kept being owned by a housing association which prohibits dogs, do indeed point to the rescue centre being at fault. It appears that the dog was rehomed without any initial checks to ensure the suitability of Branson’s home. It may be that Branson gave false details, which would also explain why the centre allowed her to take the dog despite the presence of a young child in the house. In any case, the incompetence of either the rescue centre or Lexi’s mother is of far greater importance than the dog’s breed.
When a tragic event such as this happens, it could be argued that the breed of dog involved is irrelevant; a little girl has died. With this in mind, it is even more frustrating that the media focus on the dog itself rather than the bigger picture surrounding the incident. If the rescue centre is giving out animals to anyone who walks through their doors, it doesn’t bear thinking about how many dogs have been unwittingly rehomed to an environment in breach of the Animal Welfare Act, or even ended up in the hands of dog fighters. It also raises the question of how many other centres nationwide operate in a similar manner, and how many other children are at risk, at no fault of the dog, which may have been abused.
The Kennel Club were quick to issue a statement regarding both the English Bulldog and the French Mastiff breeds, stating that both have a loving nature and that “no dog should ever be portrayed as being representative of an entire breed”. Unfortunately the French Mastiff, which presumably was not even on the premises at the time of the attack, has been tainted with ‘rumours’ which should never have been published. The English Bulldog is now also under the glaring eye of the public, despite the dog involved clearly not being a purebred example. With Sky News publishing a gallery of dog breeds involved in recent attacks, debate has once again arisen over whether more breeds of dog should be included in Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act. Thankfully the Government have confirmed that they have no plans to ban more breeds, however it is worrying to consider that these types of breed-blaming news articles were what originally influenced the introduction of breed specific legislation in 1991.
It seems that there are no signs of the media ceasing to publish such inaccurate and damaging articles, despite it being in the interest of everyone, both human and canine.
Read the Kennel Club’s statement here: http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/press-releases/2013/november/statement-following-the-death-of-lexi-branson/