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Pitbull owner's sentence cut by upper court

Pitbulls and other dangerous dogs have been much in the news in Switzerland

(Reuters)

A Zurich court has reduced the sentence of a pitbull owner who was handed a 30-month jail term in 2006 for the death of a six-year-old boy savaged by his dogs.

The upper instance handed down a two-year suspended sentence for manslaughter after finding him not guilty of a charge of causing grievous bodily harm through negligence.

The dog owner – an Italian – had asked for the sentence to be reduced to 18 months and demanded compensation for being kept behind bars two months too long.

Because he spent 20 months in jail, he requested SFr6,000 ($5,355.5) but the court rejected this. The man was released from prison in July after serving two-thirds of the original sentence and deported to Italy.

The former girlfriend of the dog breeder and the occupant of the apartment where the dogs were kept – originally given conditional sentences of 14 and 12 months respectively in the lower court – were found not guilty of the charges against them.

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

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

A mother, who had taken her child to school and was returning home, witnessed the attack.

At the first hearing, the prosecution aimed to prove that the negligence that led up to the events was almost systematic.

Makeshift shelter

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 planks and gaining access to the road.

The ten-month-old pitbulls had been imported 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.

swissinfo with agencies

Context

Dangerous dogs came under the spotlight in Switzerland after the death of a young boy bitten by pitbull terriers in December, 2005 in canton Zurich.

Parliament called on the government to strengthen federal legislation. The Zurich mass-circulation newspaper Blick launched a petition to ban pitbulls and 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 now makes it compulsory for all dogs to have a tattoo or microchip.

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Dog bites

A scientific study dating from 2002 showed that about 13,000 people seek medical treatment for dog bites in hospital or at their doctor's practice every year. That's about 180 attacks for every 100,000 residents.

In more than two-thirds of all cases, the victims of dog bites are children, meaning that their risk of being bitten is twice as high as for adults.

Children are attacked more often in the head, considered generally more dangerous, whereas adults more often suffer injuries to the hands, arms and legs.

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