Cork doctor keeping kids – and dogs – safe

Cork doctor Niamh Lynch tells Sarah Horgan about the importance of teaching and training for safe interaction between children and dogs
Cork doctor keeping kids – and dogs – safe

‘It is extremely dangerous to have dogs and children around each other in an unsupervised way,’ says Dr Niamh Lynch, a consultant in paediatrics and animal lover.

A CORK paediatrician has first-hand experience of the shock and pain of a dog bite and is working to educate families so children are not affected by the trauma of potentially life-altering bites.

Dr Niamh Lynch, who works as a consultant paediatrician at the Bon Secours Hospital, expressed concern at the number of dog attack-related injuries she observed during the course of her training. She stressed that dogs are not at fault and can also be subject to severe trauma.

Dr Lynch has joined forces with dog education centre Top Barkz and is co-hosting an event with the company’s owner, Esther Ring, at the Marina Market this Wednesday at 7pm. The Children and Dogs Workshop aims to offer recommendations about keeping children and dogs safe during their interactions.

Dr Lynch said the cause is close to her heart, given that she has children herself, and a dog named Snoopy. The frontline worker also opened up about a permanent scar she sustained after being attacked by a street dog while travelling.

“I was bitten badly and would never wish this on somebody else,” she said. 

“It’s such a terrifying experience because you don’t know when it’s going to end. It was very traumatising as an adult and a doctor, even with me knowing what was happening to me. With this in mind, it’s hard to imagine how terrified a small child must feel in this situation.”

She explained that a dog will only ever bite as a last resort.

“There is no malice in dogs. They don’t set out to be horrible. It’s all to do with how you set them up. In my own situation, I was bitten by a dog who came from the streets.

“I had been feeding him at the time and felt safe doing so. It was an ‘out-of-nowhere’ bite.

“The dog was traumatised, frustrated, and angry. He was also blind and probably in a lot of pain. I was lucky because he left to go eat but had he kept attacking there would have been nothing I could do. The scar ended up on my leg. If I had been a child I would have been at the animal’s level and the bite would have been to my face. That’s why the majority of bites to small children are to the head and neck.”

The animal lover said the correct approach is necessary to prevent more deaths in dogs.

Dr Niamh Lynch is a consultant in paediatrics with a special interest in paediatric neurology.
Dr Niamh Lynch is a consultant in paediatrics with a special interest in paediatric neurology.

“When attacks happen they are life-changing for everybody. You can be left with scars but you can also be left without your dog. There are hundreds of children presenting to emergency departments each year. They might be absolutely fine but it’s the dogs who end up being euthanised,” she said.

'A BITE WAITING TO HAPPEN'

“It’s important that everything is done to keep both as safe as possible.”

Photos of small children embracing their family pets have become a huge source of concern for Dr Lynch.

“I am seeing pictures of children on social media hugging dogs. I can see the dogs looking away, with their ears back, which are both indicators of stress. Each of these photographs is a bite waiting to happen.

“These photographs leave me feeling very uncomfortable because the signs of stress are there. It’s extremely dangerous to have dogs and children around each other in an unsupervised way because they don’t speak each other’s language. Children and dogs have to be supervised because of the potential for misunderstandings.”

She urged dog owners with children to be vigilant and added: “I dealt with dog bites all through my training. It’s still a very common thing for a child to be brought into an emergency department with a dog bite.

“What’s sad is that the leading cause of mortality for dogs under the age of five is euthanasia as a result of behavioural difficulties.

“A lot of those difficulties are around how dogs behave with children.

“Because of their size, kids are very close to the dog’s mouth and are much more likely to be bitten on the face, which can have a life-changing impact, in comparison to a bite on the leg or arm.”

Meanwhile, Esther Ring from Top Barkz emphasised that there is hope.

“I had one lady who didn’t seek out help for a year,” Esther said. “If this was a person who was mentally unstable you wouldn’t put up with those behaviours for a year and would immediately seek help.

“Dogs are no different. However, it can be stopped and turned around. We expect a lot from dogs but don’t give a lot in return. It’s important that we take the right steps in order for them to be able to cope with society.”

The Children and Dogs Workshop takes place at the Marina Market on Wednesday, November 30, 7pm. To book a place call Esther on 085-1652227. Admission is free, with a suggested donation to dog rescue charity DAWG.

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