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(Updated 9/6/01)

German 'sus law' for dog owners slammed

by Nick Mays


A GERMAN newspaper has criticised the virtual “sus law” which has arisen from the German Federal Government’s Dogs Act, designed to control so-called ‘fighting breeds’ of dog.

Under the new law, which came into effect in April, certain key constitutional rights have been removed for owners of listed dog breeds, thus allowing the police and local authorities carte blanche to enter dog owners’ homes to seize dogs which they believe to be dangerous.

This worrying state of affairs has been graphically demonstrated on at least two previous occasions, most notably when pensioner Vera Moc-Rosu was physically assaulted by two police officers that burst into her home to seize her dog which had allegedly bitten another dog.

However, even if there is no complaint against a dog, the mere suspicion of it being dangerous is now enough for the police to force entry - without a search warrant - into the owner’s home to search for and seize the dog.
Journalist Paul Zinken, writing in the paper Usinger Land has criticised the new law of which many ordinary German citizens are unaware, the Government deliberately failed to publish the new law for public scrutiny after it was enacted.

“The quickly cobbled together Dogs Acts of counties and the nation, following the tragic death of a little boy last summer in Hamburg, allow this,” writes Zinker. “According to Klaus Karrenberg, animal psychologist and expert from Wehrheim, this is absolutely crazy.

“‘These rulings cannot be upheld in a modern state’ said the 50 year old expert, who also talked of a slow undermining of the constitution. The man from Wehrheim is not alone in his assessment. FDP spokesperson for these matters Gudrun Kopp criticised the Acts and Laws on county and national level.

“‘The existing regulations show clearly how little knowledge the people responsible have and prove once more the stupidity of trying to link danger levels to breed.’”

The article goes onto to quote Karenburg further: “There are no fighting breeds. Any individual dog can become dangerous, depending on how it is treated by the owner.

Karrenburg outlines his own ideas for a workable - and fair - dog control law: “We need stronger supervision of breeders, also every dog owner should have to pass a knowledge test which would prove his mental and physical ability to have a dog. If that was in place we would surely have a whole lot less dog owners in Germany”.
The Wiesbaden Home Office took a very relaxed stance about Karrenburg’s assertions.

Press spokesman Michael Busser said: “Regulations regarding the keeping of certain dog breeds is down to the local authorities.”

Journalist Zinker takes a very strong line against this attitude.

“Arbitrary treatment or denunciation of dog owners isn’t something Mr Busser wants to know about,” he writes. (Busser says): ‘If anybody wants to they can denounce their neighbour at any time.’

Zinker then relates the story of Vera Moc-Rosu, although she is not named in his article:
“Sounds reasonable. But reality is different, as one incident from February this year from Hofheim proves. A woman of 63 years was taking her powerful but harmless cross breed “Paul” for a walk. She meets a woman with a Daxie. The two dogs bark at each other, but no biting or fighting took place. For the 63 year old the meeting had consequences. The same day she is taken away from her home in handcuffs. The owner of the Daxie had reported the old lady as owner of a supposedly dangerous dog. “Paul” was taken away using a choke chain and brought into the animal shelter, but is back home now. He had had his character test before the incident and been declared safe. The police in Hofheim confirmed that this had happened and gave as reason for the handcuffs that the dog owner refused to give her name.”

The article finishes with a stark assessment of the cost of the new laws in relation to their effectiveness and the number of actual incidents involving ‘dangerous’ dogs.

“In the area of the Usinger Land there are no incidents with so- called ‘Fighting Dogs’, according to Karrenberg. A non-representative survey of the local authorities confirmed that. In Neu-Anspach they even counted the dogs a while ago at the cost of more than 16,000 DM (about £ 5,300).

“Without any real results, according to Town Hall.” concludes Zinker.