‘Beware if they bite’

High crime rates mean many people own guard dogs, but owners must beware if they bite legitimate visitors.

Owners of guard dogs that attack people without provocation could end up being sued in civil court, or even face criminal charges and risk jail time in extreme situations.

Owners can also be held liable if their dog escapes their property and attacks people.

This warning comes from legal advisors at insurance company Risk Benefit Solutions (RBS), which has dealt with several dog attack claims.

The warning follows a number of vicious dog attacks in Pietermaritzburg over the past year — the victims of which this week bemoaned the fact that no-one took responsibility for their injuries.

Johannes du Plessis, a legal advisor at RBS, said an owner is obliged to take every “reasonable” measure to ensure their dog cannot harm people.

“They need to display a warning sign on the gate. If dogs are kept in the yard, then fences need to be in good shape. If a dog escaped it would constitute negligence.”

Du Plessis said the owner could be charged with culpable homicide if the dog were to kill someone.

“A person can keep dogs to secure their home, but just because someone comes to the yard it doesn’t mean the dog can attack.”

He said people attacked by dogs can sue for large amounts in damages, and cited a case where a trespasser was awarded nearly R7 million after a dog bit him.

Friday marked the anniversary of a Pietermaritzburg incident where two UKZN students were attacked by two rottweilers which escaped from their owner’s yard and strayed onto the campus.

Fay Morris was admitted to intensive care after being savagely bitten, and Jaap Jacobs, who came to her rescue, was bitten on his left foot.

Morris this week declined to be interviewed, but Jacobs said he is still suffering the effects of the incident.

“For the rest of my life there will be pain; it’ll never be back to normal. It’s terrible, especially knowing it could have been prevented.”

Martie Coetzer, a dog groomer who was attacked by dogs in Boughton last May, is proceeding with a civil claim against the dogs’ owners. “I’m not doing as many [grooming jobs]. I’m even scared of the dogs I regularly groom.”

Coetzer said she is struggling with the trauma of the incident, and is seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and taking medication for stress.

A Witness delivery man, Leslie Mkhize, who was mauled by pitbulls while delivering newspapers in Woodlands last November has since left the job out of fear, his former employer said.

Businessman Farouk Mohamed was attacked by his friend’s dog last July. He was bitten in his left arm and has lost feeling in part of it.

He has, however, since “patched things up” with his friend.

• kerushun.pillay@witness.co.za