Leroy Dzenga Features Writer
Expensive dogs have become a status symbol in Harare, as anywhere in the world.
Traditionally, such dogs were found in affluent suburbs, but today even high-density suburbs have caught on.
The exotic canines, which do not come cheap, have relegated the traditional mongrel which has served Zimbabwean families for decades into a condemned breed.
Mongrels are struggling to maintain relevance to families. Pitbulls, Jack Russells and Boerbels are now among the common dog types in Zimbabwe.
On a walk around suburbs on weekends, it is rare to miss a sight of the priced beasts on leash.
The leashes on some of these dogs are not just aesthetic endowments, they serve a purpose.
Pitbulls, if left unattended, can undo the belief that a dog is man’s best friend.
Recently, our sister paper Kwayedza carried a story in which Charles David, a 51-year-old man was mauled to death by his employer’s Pitbull.
Not even familiarity could save him.
Giving an account of circumstances which led to his death, police, through their Deputy spokesperson Assistant Inspector Webster Dzvova, said: “The deceased had opened the Pitbull’s kennel to feed it and its two puppies. The dogs began fighting and he tried to break them apart. In the process, he was attacked by the dog and sustained multiple injuries.”
David died three days later at Parirenyatwa Hospital.
Within the same time, a Norton Nyau dancer known as Tinashe was reportedly attacked by the same breed in line of duty.
“There was a function at the new stands. He is part of the group that goes to fetch supplies for the older nyau dancers when there is an event. So on his way to get drinks for the elders, he was attacked by a dog, a gardener left the gate open and it escaped,” an eyewitness told The Herald.
It is believed the dog that attacked him was a Pitbull.
“He was saved by the costume he was wearing. He had head gear that looks like a crocodile head and the dog kept biting that. It saved his life although he had to spend two weeks in hospital,” said the eyewitness.
Tinashe was not around when The Herald visited his family home, but his ordeal is widely known in Katanga, Norton.
Pitbulls, whose popularity has been growing, have been subject for debate in different countries.
Other jurisdictions have since outlawed their ownership, while others like Zimbabwe are silent.
New Zealand, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Poland, Norway, and some parts of Puerto Rico have banned the breed entirely.
The list of countries which have partial restrictions goes up to 40 and there has been advocacy for other countries to adopt the same approach.
Research shows these countries may be justified.
American dog researcher Merritt Clifton, in his 32-year-old study on the behaviour of Pitbulls in America and Canada, said although the breed makes up six percent of the dog population, it accounts for 68 percent of dog attacks and 52 percent of dog-related deaths.
Despite concerns raised over the dogs, their popularity does not seem to be waning.
What is it that they offer households that other dogs do not have?
In the accurate sense, Pitbulls are not a single breed.
It is a generic term used to describe dogs which have physical and behavioural characteristics of the old fetch bulls which were used to control raging bulls.
The most common types found today are American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers and Pit mixes whose puppies cost between US$200 and $US 2000 depending on the purity of the breed.
Pure breeds are most costly and some dog lovers opt for less-expensive cross breeds.
The Villalobos Rescue Centre, an American pitbull shelter, gives what could pass as an explanation for the dogs’ aggressive behaviour.
“The American Pit Bull Terrier has been ‘selectively’ bred for hundreds of years to fight other dogs. This is the sad ‘work’ these dogs were created for.
“In the same way that Labradors were bred to retrieve birds, APBT’s were bred to face other dogs in mortal combat. Even in dogs that are not recently bred from fighting lines, the urge to rumble can arise at any time,” read part of their breed description.
A Pitbull has to be specially trained to be able to channel its agility and fighting ability to good use.
In Zimbabwe, back-door breeders are now taking chances with these dogs despite lacking the requisite skills.
“Pitbulls pay good money. If you come across Pitbull puppies at a good price, you have to buy them because they sell quick and fetch hard currency. I can tell you that very few people know how to handle these dogs,” Samson Zowa, a roadside dog seller said.
According to him, Pitbulls get agitated even by the smallest of things and they are hard to control once angered.
“Failure to give the dogs good food, a good environment or meeting some of its needs can result in it getting violent. It is not a dog for those who like to feed dogs leftover sadza,” he said.
Animal experts sometimes fail to predict some of the cross breeds which are being sold on the street.
“These days people are cross-breeding Pitbulls and Boerbels, or Pitbulls and Mastiffs that creates a dangerous hybrid which is vicious. For security purposes that might work but these dogs act as if they lose their minds at some point in their lives,” Zowa said.
He added; “Some dogs are coming from South African farms where they were being trained to bite black people and can be racist. If you buy a puppy born out of such an environment and you are a black person, you may be in danger unknowingly. So there is need to buy from trusted breeders.”
Zimbabwe National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals believes it is unfair to label Pitbulls as dangerous animals.
Speaking to The Herald, an inspector with ZNSPCA Kudzanayi Chatikobo said the breed is intelligent and with the right care is very friendly to humans.
“From our observation, we cannot say pitbulls are aggressive. It is a playful dog that needs proper care. It is just that people sometimes do not observe the conditions necessary for keeping dogs and it makes them vicious in some instances,” Chatikobo said.
People who keep pitbulls confined in cages and cut their tails in apparent heightening of anger are actually committing a crime, against the country as well as the animal.
“There are five freedoms which we believe a dog and other animals must enjoy. These are freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort: freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress.
“ Once an animal is deprived of any of these freedoms, it may not behave in a predictable manner,” said Chatikobo.
With backyard breeding becoming more common by the day, ZNSPCA believes dogs acquired from dubious sources can be a danger to households.
“What is happening is people are being sold self-made breeds as pitbulls. Backyard breeders never tell buyers about the animal’s behaviour. They just overplay its physical attributes unlike us at the shelter. We assess a dog’s behaviour and advise the adopter accordingly.
“Dogs bred unconventionally sometimes are not vaccinated and that contributes to the behaviour it sometimes exhibits,” he said.
One of the major triggers of negative behaviour is confinement; keeping the dog isolated may enrage it.
Not sticking to its feeding regiment is also considered by experts to be an angering factor.
Dog enthusiast Nyashadzashe Musasa, said Pitbulls need to be properly treated, a prerequisite many fail to meet.
“It’s a guard dog if it does not know you, you are the enemy that’s why they go through a socialisation period when there are still puppies,” Musasa said.
“Dogs also snap from anxiety and fear, there is a misconception about this breed. It is one of the most loyal breeds, but they suffer from what people think of them.
“Like every guard dog, if it bites there is a chance it could result in death because of the bite force from these powerful breeds,” Musasa added.
In Zimbabwe there are laws which govern dogs, these are the Prevention of Animal Cruelty Act, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and city by-laws like the Dogs and Licensing by-law of 1993 in Harare.
All these laws are unclear on breeds and as such a pitbull is not classified as a dangerous breed in Zimbabwe. The jury is still out on whether it is good for households or should be banned through statutes.
In the meantime, with vague regulations, people lose lives in cases where their expensive best friends turn rogue.