“We can’t live in a world where dogs eat children”

Keketso Saule’s aunt shows a photo of her nephew on her cellphone

Warning: Some readers may find the details of this story distressing.

Residents of the small town of Phomolong in South Africa woke up Sunday morning to horrific screams.

They were coming from a three-year-old boy when he was attacked and then mauled to death by two American pit bull terriers.

The boy was out with friends in a neighbor’s fenced yard, where the two pit bulls were usually tied up in a cage. But that morning they were free and wandering around.

It was while the children were playing that the dogs pounced on Keketso Saule.

His devastated family say the savage attack lasted for several minutes.

“If someone hadn’t taken him away, the dogs would have finished [eating] him,” his distraught aunt, Nthabeleng Saule, told the BBC.

“On one side his face was gone and you could see his brain.”

Video taken during the attack shows horrified relatives and neighbors screaming in shock and watching the vicious dogs unsure of what to do or how to intervene.

It was only when someone poured hot water over the dogs that people were able to drag Keketso’s lifeless body away from them.

“The child’s mother, grandmother and grandfather also witnessed what happened. It will be some time before they understand why [the dogs] ate the baby””, Source: Nthabeleng Saule, Keketso’s aunt, Source description: , Image: Nthabeleng Saule

In a fit of rage, the mob, which had rushed to the scene, turned on the dogs and began throwing objects at them.

They managed to stun and capture one, setting it on fire.

Police then arrived as the community screamed for revenge and the 21-year-old owner of the dogs, Lebohang Pali, was arrested and charged with keeping dangerous dogs and faces a fine or prison sentence of up to two years or both. .

The second dog was taken away and euthanized by the SPCA animal welfare group.

Mr Pali has since been granted bail, set at 300 rand ($18, £15). It is unclear whether he will return to the house he was renting.

When we visited the neighborhood in the Free State province, about 250km (155 miles) southwest of Johannesburg, the charred remains on the road outside the Saule family home chronicled the gruesome scenes of the weekend.

Rocks, sticks and burnt rubber covered the area where the dog had been burned. Residents came out to speak of their shock and anger at what they witnessed on Sunday.

“This incident broke our hearts,” said Emily Moerane, a young mother carrying her baby.

“We don’t want pit bulls anymore,” she said, adding that if the dog’s owner doesn’t face justice, “they would take the law into our own hands.”

Inside the Saule house, Kekesto’s aunt showed us a photo of the bright-eyed, smiling little boy on her phone.

Struggling to hold back the tears, she spoke about the family’s trauma.

“Things are not good, they are not good at all. The child’s mother, grandmother and grandfather also witnessed what happened,” she said.

“It will be some time before they understand why [the dogs] ate the baby.”

Pit bulls surrendered

One of the onlookers outside told me there was another pit bull in the street, pointing to a house just across from Saule’s house.

The dog’s owner, Mokete Selebano, welcomed me and led me out into his backyard, his brown pit bull playfully jumping on him and his wife.

Mokete Selebano, his wife and dog in Phomolong, South Africa

Mokete Selebano, who lives in Phomolong, has decided to give up his pit bull Junior

“This is Junior, he’s like my son,” she said.

But fearing community animosity towards pit bulls, Mr. Selebano said he would give up his pet.

“We can’t live like this in a world where dogs eat children. If the community is angry, then there’s nothing I can do. But to see him go is very painful for my wife and me.”

Following a recent spate of fatal pit bull attacks, many people like Mr. Selebano voluntarily surrendered their dogs.

Three days after Kekesto’s death, a 15-month-old boy died in hospital after being attacked by a pit bull in the Eastern Cape province.

In Bloemfontein, 49 pit pulls were turned over to the SPCA after eight-year-old Olebogeng Mosime was killed by one the week before.

On the same day of Kekesto’s death, a girl was attacked by three pit bulls in Cape Town. She was injured and rushed to hospital, and the community attacked the animals, stoning them and setting them on fire.

The dogs delivered to the SPCA will all be assessed individually and the organization has asked the government for help in dealing with the influx.

The non-profit group Animals 24-7 has kept a record of fatal dog attacks reported by South African media since 2004. With the two deaths this week yet to be included in its list, it will bring its total death toll from pit bull at 37 in the last 18 years.

Eighteen of the victims were children, five of whom were killed this year, making it the worst on record for child deaths.

Four childhood deaths were reported in 2017, the worst year on record since 2004 with eight deaths total, and at least one death from pit bulls has been reported every year since 2016.

Accidents involving dogs are on the rise, according to law firm DSC Attorneys, which handles personal injury cases.

“So far this year we have received over 70 dog bite claims, so an average of six a month, and in October alone we received 50 per cent more claims than the previous month,” the director of dog bites told the BBC. company Kirstie Halsam.

The killing of 10-year-old Storm Nuku by her family’s two pets in September prompted the Sizwe Kupelo Foundation to start an online petition calling for dogs to be banned as pets in South Africa.

“Pit bull lovers’ defense that this is how dogs are raised doesn’t hold water. So many people, including runners, have been attacked and killed by pit bulls,” says the petition, which has so far garnered more than 129,000 signatures.

“It is time for the South African government to take decisive action and impose a complete ban on the ownership of pit bulls as pets.”

Dog fighting rings

Fear of crime is thought to be a major factor in training animals such as pit bulls as guard dogs. Mr. Selebano, who got Junior as protection for his wife when she was home alone, says there are many pit bulls in the town of Phomolong.

Pit bull owners walking their dogs on a street in Soweto, South Africa - 2009

Pit bulls are popular as guard dogs in South Africa and can often be seen in the townships

The increase in pit bull ownership, particularly in townships, is not just for protection, but also for illegal dog fighting.

The animals are trained to be aggressive, kept in tight pens on chains for the sole purpose of fighting and killing each other. Often organized by syndicates, people pay to watch and place bets on the fights.

In July, the SPCA thwarted a dog fighting ring in Cape Town’s Grassy Park, rescuing seven dogs, including three pit bull puppies, after authorities became aware of a video of dogs being encouraged to fight.

Dog fighting carries a $4,700 fine or up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.

“Backyard breeding” has also become a problem, with owners crossing pit bulls with other breeds such as boerboels for illegal dog fighting.

Lins Rautenbach and his American pit bull terrier

Lins Rautenbach, Pitbull Federation of South Africa, says a dog’s behavior depends on its owners

This means that the dogs may look like American pit bull terriers, but are more aggressive and more prone to biting people, especially children.

Critics of a blanket ban on pit bulls say it won’t solve the problem of irresponsible ownership.

“These massacres are nothing short of tragic,” Lins Rautenbach, a spokesman for the Pitbull Federation of South Africa, told the BBC.

But he blamed the dog owners squarely, saying laws must be put in place to address them.

“Banning the breed means that people in South Africa who want to feel safe will switch from this breed to another.

“So maybe we’ll see a drop in pit bull strokes, but we’ll see an increase in, say, Rottweilers or German Shepherds,” he said.

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