A savage attack on an 11-year-old girl in Birmingham highlights a potential for wildness that dog owners are often keen to deny
I happen to be reading Evil Angels at the moment, John Bryson’s brilliant account of the case of Lindy Chamberlain and the death, in 1980, of her infant daughter, Azaria. It is a story, largely, about a miscarriage of justice, but it is also, of course, a story about a dog. A few days before Azaria Chamberlain was snatched by a dingo from the family’s tent near Uluru, a 12-year-old girl was attacked in similar fashion at the same campsite, and survived. “It had her about the elbow,” writes Bryson. “The grip was commanding, painful, and she couldn’t shake it off. The vapour of arrogance in its eyes was unmistakable and terrifying. She screamed for her mother.”
Dingos aren’t domestic dogs, but at the time of Azaria’s death and her mother’s subsequent arrest for her murder, they weren’t imagined to pose much risk to humans. I thought of this scene, and about the decades-long power of the Chamberlain story more generally, while reading this week about the attack by an American bully XL crossbreed dog on an 11-year-old girl in Birmingham. The child survived, with lacerations to her arms and injuries to the several people who intervened to help her. Two years ago, an American bully XL mauled and killed a 10-year-old boy in Wales, and earlier this year, a woman was killed by her own bully XL in Surrey. While campaigners called for the breed to be banned and the home secretary described it as “a clear and lethal danger”, the Royal Kennel Club doesn’t even recognise the bully XL – a combination of an American pitbull terrier, and American and English bulldogs – as a distinct breed.
Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist