By Murray Williams
A surgeon has issued a plea for parents to take extreme care with a breed of dog - the boerboel.
Dr Jonathan Toogood, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, said this after an increasing number of dog attacks on children - the majority by the South African-bred boerboel.
Speaking from his rooms at Somerset Aesthetic Surgery in Somerset West, Toogood said: "Dog bite cases outnumber the cases I see involving motor vehicle accidents, incidents involving pedestrians, and domestic violence.
"And of the dog bite cases, approximately 80 percent of the cases I see involve boerboels.
"The remaining 20 percent (are made up) of all the other breeds of dogs combined.
"I'm simply telling you what's coming through my doors and they are children bitten by boerboels.
"I don't want to create a feeling of ill-will towards boerboels," the surgeon said.
Another source at the hospital said Vergelegen Medi-Clinic in Somerset West had treated 125 dog-bite patients last year.
But it was not clear how many of these incidents had involved boerboels.
Toogood recounted the story of a four-year-old boy whose entire mid-face had been bitten off in recent mauling.
He said the child's family had been on holiday with friends on the southern Cape coast at New Year.
The child had just been riding on his bicycle, had put his bicycle down and might have wanted to touch the dog when he was attacked.
"In a single bite it amputated the child's nose, both his cheeks, his upper jaw and top lip.
"The child's entire face, except for his eyes and eyelids, was brought to the hospital in a bag, on ice.
"It's the worst injury I've ever seen on a live child," Toogood said.
"He is looking at 10 or more operations from now until adulthood," he reported.
In another case a year ago, a boerboel had bitten the arm of its owner and stripped the soft-tissue from the woman's arm.
Fortunately for the woman, the bone, one of the three major nerves and the main blood vessels had been spared.
"If her husband hadn't been home and hadn't run outside and fired a gunshot in the air, she could well have lost her arm entirely," he said.
"This is not just an affable farm dog with big slobbery chops," said Toogood.
"They are inherently dangerous, with a strong streak of unpredictability, but breeders are not saying so and hence they are being kept as house pets."
Commenting on Toogood's warning, a breeder from the Midlands in KwaZulu-Natal, Ann Woodboard, raised two points.
"First, there are so many cross-breeds out there. So what may be called a boerboel may not be a thoroughbred at all.
"You have to look at the bloodline of an animal which has bitten someone. And the majority of these dogs don't even have papers, so you can't trace them," Woodboard said.
"I breed for good temperament and all my dogs are micro-chipped, so I know exactly where all my dogs are.
"I have children and grandchildren. And any animal I find with an aggressive streak, I will not hesitate to put it down."
She said training was important, too.
"When they are sold, you also don't know what treatment they are getting.
"People don't discipline their dogs properly; they let their kids tease them.
"These big dogs like to have their space. Kids get into their space.
"It is a big, heavily muscled dog. And, like any big dog, they need to be respected."
Cape of Good Hope SPCA CEO Allan Perrins today said: "It isn't the SPCA's policy to condemn any breed of dog. But, yes, we get a lot of boerboels handed in.
"People get them as puppies - they're very cute.
"But if they're not properly trained, you could end up with a potential killer on your hand. And I'm not exaggerating. There have been too many incidents.
"I know that the pitbull has the 'killer dog' reputation. But I'm afraid it's being fast superceded by the boerboel."