Boerboel dog

Philip Ouma and a colleague  from KK Security Guards Company  handles Boerboel dogs in Eldoret.

| Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Is Boerboel the most ferocious, dangerous dog?

What you need to know:

  • The dogs, some say, are hardly friendly to strangers and it doesn’t help matters that they can be intimidatingly big.
  • The dog is banned or prohibited in some countries; among them Switzerland, France, Mauritius and Qatar.

A dog breed that can grow to up to 120 kilos, and whose puppy costs at least Sh100,000 from some breeders has been a subject of discussion this week after it was reported to have killed a house help in Malindi, Kilifi County, on Monday.

The dog is a Boerboel, a breed whose roots are in South Africa and which is banned in a number of countries across the world.

It attacked 39-year-old Roselyn Nafuna, who the Saturday Nation understands had lasted only one week at the household located in Moriema , at around 5am.

“(She) had opened the door leading to the porch when she was attacked by the dog, a South African Boerboel famed for its well-developed muscles and a strong bone structure,” the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) revealed in a post.

“A night guard at the home identified as John Siria, reported hearing the woman’s distress screams as she was being mauled by the beast,” it added.

The DCI noted that the woman, who had been pinned on the floor during the attack, got up after the night guard’s intervention. She then said she was fine and headed to the house.

But when the day guard reported, he found the woman dead.

Mr John Kemboi, the Malindi sub-county police commander, said police will take action after a post-mortem is done on her body sometime next week. However, authorities have not been forthcoming in releasing details of the woman’s employer.

“We have nothing to hide. We shall do a post-mortem next week and take necessary action but we are yet to arrest anyone in connection with the death of the woman,” said Mr Kemboi.

He added the delay in reporting the incident by the guards – four hours after it happened – had also raised questions.

Intimidatingly big

“We cannot go by the narration given to us by the owner of the dog. So, we have launched our in-depth investigations to establish what happened,” said the police boss.

While the initial police report points at the Boerboel, dog behaviour experts want more information released about the attack to shed more light.

One of those is Ms Neeltje Rosenstock, the executive officer at the East Africa Kennel Club.

“It needs to be very clear that the issue is not caused by the type of dog that is involved. The type of dog is completely irrelevant,” Ms Rosenstock told the Saturday Nation. “A breed of dogs is not responsible for the actions of the dog.”

Local Boerboel owners are among those with an affiliation to the East Africa Kennel Club, and they call themselves the Boerboel Association of East Africa (BAEA).

BAEA says on its website that the Boerboel was a product of selective interbreeding between dogs brought in by Dutch, French, and British settlers in South Africa and dogs of African descent.

The association says the interbreeding was done “to create dogs who could withstand the new harsh environment”.

“The purebred Boerboel type thus developed as a general farm dog for the pioneers who settled in South Africa in the seventeenth century. These dogs were often the first line of defence against predators and were valuable in guarding households and accompanying hunters and farmers,” adds BAEA.

“They fulfilled specific working functions through their strength, agility and courage. The dangers and harsh conditions of Southern Africa allowed only the fittest to survive. The protective character of the Boerboel is today still evident and is much sought after, as is the calm, stable and confident composure of the breed,” it goes on.

But that is not the description given by some people who have interacted with Boerboels. The dogs, some say, are hardly friendly to strangers and it doesn’t help matters that they can be intimidatingly big.

Banned in some countries

In 2010, South African media house Independent Online (IOL) ran a story where Dr Jonathan Toogood, a plastic surgeon, was advising parents to be extremely careful with the Boerboel.

“Dog bite cases outnumber the cases I see involving motor vehicle accidents, incidents involving pedestrians, and domestic violence,” he said. “And of the dog bite cases, approximately 80 percent of the cases I see involve Boerboels.”

In fact, the dog is banned or prohibited in some countries; among them Switzerland, France, Mauritius and Qatar. Aggression towards other dogs and strangers are among the reasons why the dog doesn’t curry favour with some territories.

However, Ms Rosenstock believes it is not fair to ban an entire breed altogether.

“If you look at the legislation around banning or breeds, it’s very much argued against by anyone who knows anything about dogs. It’s a political move usually, and there are very few breeds that are too aggressive to be kept,” she said.

Ms Rosenstock, while noting that she still didn’t have all facts about the Malindi attack, said the alleged mauling of a woman to death was a “very strange situation”.

“It’s not normal; that’s not likely. If you’re looking at dog behaviour, the dog must have had a problem. Has it been beaten by this person? Has this person provoked it? Has the dog had unusual behaviour before this? Was it sick? Is it hurting? Was the lady holding maybe dog food? Has this lady been introduced to the dog? Is the owner of the house nice to this lady? Was the lady a threat to the home?” she posed, adding that rabies can also be a factor.

Also arguing in favour of analysing the facts of the attack is Mr Samuel Amenya, the chairman of the Boerboel Association of East Africa.

“Large animals or dog breeds are quiet and confident in nature. Every puppy has to be well socialised with family, staff and other animals in a safe and homely environment where it is well-fed, loved and cared for by people with passion, knowledge and training or experience to develop into a good well-behaved dog,” Mr Amenya told the Saturday Nation.

He asserted that no dog is bad unless its owners are not well-prepared before bringing it home; or if the puppy is not socialised well with the family; or if the owner is ignorant of long-term commitment; poor training of dogs or handlers not being trained on how to handle them.

“Aggressive dogs

If workers are not trained well, he said, they may “panic, scream or overreact when around scared or inquisitive dogs”.

“Both staff and dogs need to be introduced and given time to bond before being left alone by owners,” said Mr Amenya.

He went on: “Aggressive dogs are raised by owners or trainers who don’t take time to study the breed and don’t use positive methods required for the breed. They reuse methods used on other dog breeds with bad outcomes. Most trainers are viciously bitten or maimed in the process.”

“I have a 10-year-old Boerboel who is easy to handle even by kids. He isn’t worried about other dogs, animals and humans,” he said.

But a man in Nairobi’s Lavington who breeds Boerboels admits that the dog “is not for everyone”.

“Boerbels have become very popular in recent years. They are very social animals and good in family set ups. They love to be around their owners. They are also very loyal and good as guards. But in the wrong hands the dog can be very bad. I don’t just sell my dogs to anyone. I try to find out if the person knows how to take care of this breed,” said Mr Daniel Mutuma Gichungi of the Lenana Boerboel Kennel.

“Boerboels can weigh up to 120 kilos and reach heights of around 28 inches and 25 inches at the shoulders for male and female, respectively. I love my dogs to be lean so that they avoid bone issues that come with too much weight. A Boerboel puppy goes from Sh100,000 to Sh120,000 after appraisal and vaccinations, at 8 to 12 weeks old,” he added.

Mr Mutuma noted that problems with dogs start when they are young, hence the need to socialise them well.

“If the owner of the dog does not assert himself as the alpha and the dog is allowed to run amok, it may bring problems to the owner or others in the environment in future,” he said. “Just because they’re guard dogs, it doesn’t mean they should be attacking anyone.”

Reporting by Elvis Ondieki, Anthony Kitimo and Thomas Rajula