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Pitbull owner jailed over child death

Legislation on dangerous dogs is being reviewed as a result of the killing

(Keystone)

A Zurich court has sentenced a pitbull owner to 30 months in jail for the death of a six-year-old boy savaged by his dogs last December.

The Italian man's Swiss girlfriend was given a suspended sentence of 14 months, while the owner of the apartment where the couple lived with their dogs received a conditional sentence of 12 months.

The long-awaited verdict came on Friday four days after the trial opened.

The dog owners were found guilty of manslaughter and of causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.

The 30-month sentence handed down to the Italian was in line with the prosecution's demands. The maximum sentence possible would have been three years.

The defence had issued a plea for a reduced sentence of 18 months for the dog owner on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

The attack happened on the morning of December 1, 2005 in Oberglatt near Zurich.

The six-year-old boy was on his way to kindergarten when the three pitbulls, which had broken loose, set upon him, inflicting grave head and neck injuries.

A mother, who had taken her child to school and was returning home, witnessed the attack. She suffered post-traumatic stress and has not been able to work since.

Systematic negligence

The prosecution aimed to prove that the negligence that led up to the events was almost systematic.

Before escaping, the dogs were kept in a makeshift shelter on the apartment's terrace. Five dogs had a total of 3.75 square metres to move around in. They had no difficulty in moving the planks and gaining access to the road.

The ten-month-old pitpulls had been imported, legally, from Italy two days previously. Since their birth they had been confined with two other dogs in a single room occupied by the mother of the principal accused.

The dogs had never seen another human being, had never been taken for walks and showed signs of having injured one another.

The prosecutor claimed that the accused would have been able to save the victim's life – "with a probability that verges on certainty" – if he had respected his duties and responsibilities as a dog owner.

His girlfriend was subject to the same charges since she looked after the dogs in the same capacity as her boyfriend.

After the attack she managed to recapture two of the five escaped dogs but then returned to the flat rather than tend to the victim.

The apartment owner, who had just bought one of the pitbulls, received a 12-month suspended sentence.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Dangerous dogs came under the spotlight after the death of a young boy bitten by pitbull terriers last December in canton Zurich.

Parliament called on the government to strengthen federal legislation. The Zurich mass-circulation newspaper Blick, which launched a petition to ban pitbulls, collected more than 175,000 signatures.

Some cantons subsequently decided to tighten their own dog laws.

At the federal level, the law on the protection of animals will make it compulsory from next year for all dogs to have a tattoo or microchip.

Swiss legislation on dogs is among the least restrictive in Europe. Certain breeds are totally banned in France and Germany.

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Key facts

According to a Federal Veterinary Office report dating from 2002, about 13,000 people are bitten by dogs annually in Switzerland.
In 24% of cases, the victim is bitten by his own dog, in 34% the dog is known to the person bitten, and in 42% of incidents the dog is unknown to the victim.
Before the young boy's death in canton Zurich, the only fatality blamed on a dog dates back to November 2000 in Zurich. A woman who had been frightened by a dog jumped into the River Limmat and drowned.

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