Inquest into fatal dog attacks hears calls for American Staffordshire Terriers to become restricted breed

An inquest into the death of a five-week-old baby has heard their family pet, an American Staffordshire Terrier, attacked the neighbour’s dog just weeks before fatally mauling the child.

Ben Rosen, a senior ranger at Central Coast Council, appeared in Lidcombe Coroners Court on Tuesday to give evidence at an inquest into the circumstances surrounding seven fatal dog attacks that occurred between 2019 and 2023.

One of the incidents claimed the life of a five-week-old baby boy, who was found dead in his home in mid-2021.

Only weeks before the newborn baby was killed, the inquest heard the family’s AmStaff had mauled the neighbour’s dog.

Mr Rosen said a ranger attended the property after the dog attack, but she could not determine “beyond a reasonable doubt” the AmStaff had dragged the other dog into the yard to kill it.

“It was very hard to proceed with any action as to a dog attack,” he said.

The ranger noted the AmStaff had distinctive characteristics which led her to believe it might be a Pitbull crossbreed, an assessment Mr Rosen corroborated after reviewing photos.

Pitbulls are a restricted breed in Australia, which means they must be desexed and either confined within a specific enclosure, or muzzled.

After questioning the family dog’s heritage, Mr Rosen signed a notice of intention to compel the dog’s owners to have its breed assessed and declared.

Despite the violent incident, he said the council rangers did not consider seizing the AmStaff at the time.

“We are satisfied it could be adequately contained in the backyard,” he said.

“We had no indication the dog had ever shown aggression towards people before.”

The inquest heard the AmStaff was euthanized and declared as a Pitbull in the death certificate, but it was later amended to read AmStaff.

Veterinarian and ethologist Paul McGreevy told the court the two breeds are similar in temperament and in their propensity “for initiating acts of aggression”.

He noted toddlers who move around on all fours are “particularly at risk” with dogs bred for fighting because the animals “will not stand around and do the math”.

The inquest heard the savage mauling of a woman’s pet dog by two AmStaffs in early 2021, months before the baby’s death, had prompted the council to review information about the breed’s involvements in violent incidents.

The data showed a quarter of dog maulings in the Central Coast were attributed to AmStaffs, prompting a push for the breed to be added to the restricted breeds list.

“25 per cent of the attacks we investigate are that breed,” Mr Rosen said.

“There’s a problem.”

Deputy State Coroner Carmel Forbes is assessing local government responses to the fatal dog attacks to determine if there’s anything that can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future.

The inquest continues this week.

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