Bitten by a dog: minor problem or a death sentence?

Yesterday afternoon I got a nip from a dog while out delivering leaflets.

No big deal you might think. Clean and disinfect the wound. Check that tetanus is up to date. Get on with life.

But it reminded me of a sign I saw posted up while I was out in Sierra Leone a few weeks ago running some training for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

There were a team of us from the Lib Dem, Labour and Conservative parties working with local council candidates from the SLPP, APC and PMDC to help them prepare for their local elections.

One afternoon, we went to the UN Guest House in Kenema, the third city of Sierra Leone, to see if they had any free accomodation nearer to where we were running our training and the following police press release, about dogs, was on the wall.

It’s an very vivid and interesting piece of writing. It paints a very recognisable, and, in some ways, bleakly funny, picture of how police, politicians and local people often interact. But at the heart of it is an awful reality. For many people in Sierra Leone, without access to adequate medical care, even in one of the country’s major cities, a dog bite can be a death sentence.

Here’s the press release:

PRESS RELEASE

FROM:    THE OFFICE THE LOCAL UNIT COMMANDER KENEMA DIVISION
TO:    THE GENERAL PUBLIC

POLICE HAS OBSERVED IN RECENT TIMES AN ESCALATION IN THE INCIDENCE OF STRAY DOG BITES IN THE KENEMA TOWNSHIP WHICH HAVE RESULTED INTO THE UNTIMELY DEATH OF THE INNOCENT VICTIMS, WHICH THE POLICE DEEPLY REGRET. POLICE HAS ALREADY BROUGHT THIS TO THE ATTENTION OF THE KENEMA TOWN COUNCIL TO GET RID OF THE STRAY DOGS TO END THE MENACE AS PEOPLE ARE NOWADAYS GRIPPED WITH FEAR AT THE SIGHT OF STRAY DOGS. CONSEQUENTLY, BANDS OF TEENAGERS HAVE ALSO GONE IN SEARCH OF STRAY DOGS, WHICH THEY KILL, ON SIGHT WITH STONES AND CRUDE INSTRUMENTS LEAVING THE STREETS LITTERED WITH THE DEAD DOGS. SOME PEOPLE HAVE ALSO SUSTAINED VARIOUS INJURIES INFLICTED BY THE YOUTHS IN THE PROCESS OF KILLING THE STRAY DOGS.MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC ARE WARNED TO RESTRAIN THESE TEENAGERS TO REFRAIN FROM PURSUING THESE DOGS AS THERE IS A POTENTIAL FOR OTHER TEENAGERS WITH ULTERIOR MOTIVES TO JOIN THEM TO ENGAGE IN CRIMINAL ACTIVITIES TO THE DETRIMENT OF THE PUBLIC AND MORE PEOPLE MAY ALSO BE INJURED BY THE INSTRUMENTS USED BY THE TEENAGERS. OWNERS OF DOGS ARE WARNED TO CONFINE THEIR DOGS IN THEIR HOMES SO THAT THEY WILL NOT BE PUBLIC MENACE. THE POLICE ARE WILLING TO ASSIST THE PUBLIC TO TRACK DOWN STRAY DOGS WHILST THE TIMELY INTERVENTION OF THE TOWN COUNCIL IS AWAITED TO DICISIVELY DEAL WITH THE SITUATION TO BRING RELIEF TO THE INHABITANTS OF KENEMA TOWNSHIP.

USMAN KAMARA [SUPT]
LOCAL UNIT COMMANDER – KENEMA DIVISION

Here’s a PDF of the original Kenema Police Press Release and here’s a link to a photo of it.

I don’t know which medical charities have particular activities in Kenema, but if you’d like to support improved medical care in Sierra Leone, you can donate to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or Medical Assistance Sierra Leone.

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2 Responses to Bitten by a dog: minor problem or a death sentence?

  1. Julian says:

    Martin, I disagree about dog bites being minor.

    I don’t know how much of a “nip” you got, but I think that much more should be done to make dog owners responsible for the behaviour of their dogs.

    I was attacked by three dogs (in a pack) whilst out running on the downs and bitten by one. Far too many owners seem to think that it is *my* fault that *their* dog wants to attack me (one excuse was “oh, it is because you wear a hat”).

    I was up in Cheshire over the last few days, and was even chased by a dog when walking along a public footpath. In the same way that people who allow dogs to chase sheep and cows should be held responsible, farmers should be responsible for keeping farm dogs under control.

    I am not usually in favour of new laws, but I do think it was a mistake when dog licensing was abolished – except that I would make it owner licensing, and conditional on proper training for both dog + owner.

  2. Martin says:

    Julian,

    I meant ‘minor’ in health terms – although I recognise that there are a few horrible exceptions every year in the UK where the consequences of a dog bite are much more serious.

    My intent was to highlight the horrific consequences of dog bites in a poor country like Sierra Leone with poorer public health and health services – where people die for lack of access to medical interventions that we take almost for granted.

    I agree completely that it’s always unacceptable for owners to allow dogs to bite members of the public going about their lawful business – even if it’s through a letter-box!

    I’m not entirely convinced that dog licenses are the answer because I’m not clear how they would help (although I recognise that this puts me in opposition to Lib Dem party policy)! I’d rather there was proper prosecution when dogs do attack.

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