(Updated 9/6/01)

Now courts rule German States' laws are illegal

Report by Nick Mays


GERMAN COURTS have ruled that the ‘Fighting Dog’ breed lists introduced by the Governments of two Lander (regional States) are illegal. The news was greeted with delight by anti-BSL campaigners throughout Germany and around the world when the ruling were announced last week.

The two States involved are Schleswig-Holstein, which borders on to Denmark, where the action was brought by 12 dog owners, and Niedersachsen, which is south of Schleswig-Holstein.

In layman’s terms the rulings say that a dog isn’t dangerous by breed. The court in Schleswig-Holstein has stated that a dog becomes dangerous by a combination of character and upbringing and no dog is born dangerous.

However, all other parts of the States Dogs Act which are not breed-specific (i.e. the control of dogs, temperament etc.) have stayed in place.

One part of the judgement states that the argument that size, muscle power and weight had been taken into account when putting together the breed list wouldn’t wash as the list would then have to include the German Shepherd, German Dogue, Rottweiler and Boxer. The German Shepherd, as Germany’s national dog is not included on any States’ List, even though GSDs account for more biting incidents in Germany than any other breed.

“This is for us just a partial victory” said Thomas Henkenjohann, chairman of the Association against discrimination of dog and owner. It had taken much too long to find out the stupidity of breed lists. “An Act which starts with the dog can’t work - the problem is human,” according to Henkenjohann. “The association therefore calls for example for a knowledge test of the owner.” He added.

The County Government is, naturally, of a different opinion. “In our eyes the breed list is a valid means for decision” said Ove Rahlf, spokesman for the Schleswig-Holstein Home Office. “Other courts had confirmed that the breed list was scientifically proven. We will appeal against the judgement and are optimistic that we will get somewhere.”

However, despite Rahlf’’s arrogant assertion, campaigners are confident that the Schleswig-Holstein Home Office will ultimately not appeal or that, if they do, their appeal will fail, thus humiliating the State Government further.

In Niedersachsen the Dogs Act has been nullified by the courts, but with the additional remark that it is not necessary to put down dogs of so-called ‘ Fighting Breeds’ if they fail to pass the compulsory character test, as all other dog breeds only have restrictions imposed in the form of compulsory muzzle and lead.

Despite this, the States Minister responsible has now decided to push to have all dogs put down that don’t pass the character test - that way he doesn’t need a breed list.

Both rulings become effective in each State immediately, unless the States Government attempts to appeal against the rulings, or if a new, more effective Dogs Act is decided upon and enacted.

The court rulings do not, however, set a legal precedent which will apply to the other 13 States which have breed-specific dog laws, as each State has it’s own individual law which stands or falls by its own merit.

However, similar legal challenges are under way against the dog laws of other States, so the judges in these States will undoubtedly take into account what was decided in the other regions when making their decisions, so the rulings have a psychological effect.

On June 21the courts will rule whether the dog laws of North-Rhein Wesphalia are legal. The law in Hessen has already been withdrawn in relevant parts, with a final verdict expected in the autumn.

Thueringen has been the only State not to establish breed lists.

Campaigner Gabi Woiwode commented: “So... good luck then Ministry of Schleswig-Holstein, I don’t think their appeal will do them any good whatsoever. I think one can realistically assume that the “trend” is going into the other direction. At least, Germany seems to be very, very undecided concerning this subject. And this ruling means we have already achieved a lot.

“We are not dealing with ONE authority or ONE ministry. We are fighting and arguing with SIXTEEN Ministries plus the FEDERAL level Government. But, as ever, we shall fight on.”

 


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