FERAL dogs — born wild and not fully groomed to socialise with humans — have been biting tourists in Batu Ferringhi beach in Penang.
Believed to be guarding water sports equipment left on the beach overnight, they pose no problems in the day. But their territorial instincts kick in at night and dawn.
The unfortunate victims are hotel guests keen on early morning walks by the sea. Three attacks this year came to light recently.
Australian Arthur Paikos was attacked by a lone dog that did not bark in warning. After Paikos passed it, the dog sneaked up from behind and bit him deeply in the calf.
“It seemed to pay no attention as I passed. But after about 10 seconds, it bit my left calf and ran away,” he told The Star via email.
He stressed that the dog did not seem fierce at first, and he did nothing to provoke it.
“I started bleeding and quickly got medical attention,” he said, adding it happened in February, which he counted as his 40th trip to Penang.
He stays in a five-star resort here for about three months every year to escape the biting cold in his country.
Batu Ferringhi has been a winter hideaway for high net worth foreigners for decades.
In another attack, an eight-year-old boy from India was bitten on March 20 while on a morning walk with his family, revealed a hotel manager who declined to be named.
On Sunday, the manager said yet another beach dog lunged at a hotel guest who managed to avoid being bitten.
Penang Dog Agility Association chief training instructor Sue Yeap criticised such uses of feral dogs.
Stray dogs, she explained, are abandoned pets. Feral ones are ‘born wild’ and possess only natural canine instincts.
“The dogs protect areas where they get food and affection. They don’t know they are being used to guard the equipment.
“They will only allow trusted people to enter their territories. They will bite others out of fear,” she said, advising the public not to confront feral dogs.
A recent check between 6am and 8am on the beach stretch from Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa to Holiday Inn Resort revealed four watchful dogs.
Sticks and wide lines drawn on the sand marked large areas around jet skis, boats, and other equipment.
The dogs seemed to recognise these boundaries. They chased away pigeons and crows that tried to land near them.
Yeap urged the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to stop the marking of these boundaries.
“Dogs understand that the territories are established for them. Once this is stopped, they have no area to guard and they may change their behaviour.”
Penang Watercraft Operators Association president Louis Lim said if the dogs belonged to the operators, they must be responsible.
“The dogs must not be allowed to roam around. The beach is a public space.
“I am also a dog owner and I leash my dog when we are outside,” he said, urging the city council to take action.
MBPP Public Health Committee alternate chairman Ong Ah Teong said the council caught two dogs in Batu Ferringhi last month after getting public complaints.
“They were caught behind Bayview Beach Resort and sent to the state Veterinary Department in Jalan Gurdwara for observation,” he said.
Ong said all dogs caught would be sent there and registered owners of tagged dogs would be called to collect their pets.
“Owners are let off with a warning if it is the first time they are found allowing their dogs to roam about.
“But we will impound the dogs if the offence is repeated,” he said.