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(Updated 8/7/01)

German Dog Laws Update -
Lest we forget - Volkans legacy

by Nick Mays

LAST WEEK marked a sad anniversary for a Turkish immigrant family in Hamburg, as well as for many thousands of Germans and other people around the world.

For June 26th 2001 marked the first anniversary of the death of six year-old Volkan Kaja, who was savaged to death by two fighting dogs, an American Pit Bull Terrier named Zeus and an American Stafford named Gypsy. Zeus was owned by Ibrahim Kulunc, 24, who, like young Volkan, is the son of Turkish immigrants. Kulunc was a well-known criminal in the Wildhelmsburg district of Hamburg and was known to the police for drug dealing and dog fighting activities. However, he was allowed free rein to exercise his fighting dogs in public without fear of intervention by the police, despite protests from local residents. On the fatal day in June 2000, Kulunc’s dog and that of his girlfriend, Silja Wilms (19) savaged and killed Volkan as he played innocently in a school playground. The boy’s death led directly to the harsh legal crackdown on dog ownership by the German authorities and divided the nation between dog owners and dog haters.

The dog Zeus was acknowledged as one of the toughest fighting dogs in Germany, earning its owner a steady income in money wagered in organised fights. The dog was already subject to a control order, requiring it to be muzzled in public, after it had bitten another person some months previously. It was not, however, muzzled when Kulunc was walking it that fateful day.

Kulunc was tried for the child’s death in December 2000 alongside Wilms and told the court how he had tried to save Volkan, declaring that he had run after and tried to get the dogs off the child, claiming that five times he had forcibly opened their jaws.

In the end Kulunc picked the boy up, but the dogs jumped on him and he fell over. In the end he was too weak to prevent them from mauling the child further.

Police officers arrived shortly thereafter and shot both dogs dead.

The judge handed down a comparatively light sentence of three and a half years for Kulunc on the grounds that the prosecution could not actually prove anything. There were NO witnesses that maintained their statements that the dogs were trained.

Wilms was sentenced to one year suspended.

In what can only be described as a cruel insult to injury, Volkan’s parents were refused permission by the Hamburg courts to sue the City for the death of their son, for failing to enforce the law against Ibrahim Kulunc, despite both the local authorities and the police being aware of his activities.

In the days following Volkan’s death, the country erupted into a frenzy of anti-dog feeling, fuelled by the media and soundbite-loving politicians. At the time, Bull Terrier exhibitor Gregor Von Dungen, obviously horrified by the incident told OUR DOGS at the time: “Last Monday I had the worst day of the last 13 years. This day will make history as the doom for all bull and terrier breeds. A Pit Bull and an AmStaff killed a six year-old pupil in a schoolyard. It was a horrible massacre.

“ The dogs’ owner, an Turkish immigrant, did not have the dogs on leads, even though the Pit was ordered by police to be muzzled, because it had bitten before. We have since learned that the man was a gangster, convicted 17 times for, robbery, grievous bodily harm and dog fighting.

Aggression

“His neighbours called the police several times about his activities, because he trained his dogs for aggression and fights. The police didn’t react because they are afraid of the inhabitants of this district. So one can say that those in administrative positions are also responsible for the poor boy’s death by their inaction.”

The attack story was broadcast on every television channel and carried by every newspaper. Most vociferous about so-called “devil dogs” were newspapers in the Rainbow news group who called for the destruction and banning of all such breeds.

Meanwhile, politicians from all parties appeared on TV denouncing all such dogs and calling for new legislation to control them.

“How could I find arguments now?” added Von Dungen, “The fight against the DDA was for nothing. The politicians reacted as fast as they had never done before.

In interviews they claimed the new orders. I’m afraid that no judge in Germany will decide for us in any legal challenges.”

He continues, the pain and sorrow evident in his voice: “ The Bull and Terrier breed enthusiasts in Germany are absolutely destroyed. We mourn for the death of the boy, but everyone thinks we are murderers.

“Every day since last Monday you see reports about the theme. The newspapers give an account every day about new laws. It is very confusing. The media even tell people to report “fighting dogs’ in their neighbourhood so they can go and confront the owners. “Dog owners are afraid of going on the street. People kick the dogs, insult the owners, throw rocks at them, and slash the tyres of cars which have stickers with heads of the discriminated dogs. “

There were reports of dogs and their owners being attacked in the streets . It was reported that a crowd set upon a Bull Terrier and its owner in a Berlin street. Whilst the owner was beaten and held down, a crowd poured petrol over the dog and set fire to it, killing it. The same day, an Austrian woman who shows Bull Terriers was driving along the autobahn and pulled into a service station for a short break. When she returned to her car, four men wielding baseball bats confronted her. They pointed to the Bull Terrier stickers in her car and told her that she was a “child killer” and not wanted here with her devil dogs. The men smashed her car windows and headlights, and when she protested they clubbed her unconscious with the bats. No police action was taken.

Of course, the upshot of this hysteria was the introduction by the various German States of harsh anti-dog legislation, including infamous List of proscribed, so-called ‘fighting’ breeds. The German Federal Government itself introduced a draconian Act in April of this year which effectively removed constitutional rights from owners of ‘dangerous’ dogs, giving the police the right to enter their homes on suspicion of there being a ‘dangerous’ dog in residence, without the need for a search warrant.

Evidence

The law also banned the import or free movement across German borders of American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffords, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Bull Terriers, in direct breach of the EU’s laws of free movement. Despite repeated requests from the European Commissioner David Byrne for clear scientific evidence that these four breeds are a danger to mankind, the German Government have failed to provide such evidence, thus making their law illegal under the terms of EU law.

Meanwhile, the law itself is being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights, whilst a number of States;’ laws have been ruled illegal and unconstitutional by the German courts.

All this is the result of politicians acting in haste, to grab votes, to seek a “quick fix” solution to a problem which cannot be solved by legislating against whole breeds of dog. The fact that Ibrahim Kulunc was allowed to possess a dangerous dog is the failing of the German authorities to act and deal with a bad owner. Undoubtedly, the full weight of the law should be brought against Kulunc or anybody who allows their dog to be aggressive and, naturally, that dog should be destroyed if it is a danger to human beings. But it is a clear need to punish the deed, not the breed which prevails here. To criminalise thousands of law-abiding, dog owning citizens to make a political point is morally abhorrent. Breed Specific Legislation does not work, as the experience of the Dangerous Dogs Act has shown in the UK. Even then, after seven years of trauma, cruelty and injustice, the then Conservative Government in the UK was forced to admit that it had got it wrong and the DDA was duly amended.

But with Teutonic arrogance on a massive scale, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder belligerently forges ahead with his Fighting Dog laws, believing that he is right, doomed to make the same mistakes that history has shown from Germany’s policies against “undesirable” sections of the community sixty years ago.

Other countries throughout Europe and in certain American States try to mimic Germany and adopt BSL, which is the worst kind of unfocussed, ‘quick fix’ flawed law available.

At the end of the day, however, the cost has been the precious life of a child. We must not forget that a six year-old boy lies in a grave in Hamburg, the victim of a needless dog attack, his death seized upon by unthinking politicians and cynical media pundits to promote a mad, divisive law against innocent dog owners.

Volkan Kaja’s death was tragic. But it was avoidable.

And the fault does not lie with dog owners.