go out across Europe
examines the growth of Breed Specific Legislation in Germany and throughout
YEARS ago, Great Britain exported a concept that caught the imagination of
politicians throughout Europe. It was stunningly simple, easy to enact and
provided the perfect short-term solution (or at least perceived solution)
to a problem of great public concern. The concept appealed to the masses because
it marginalised a section of the community upon whom the blame for the problem
could be laid.
History may teach us that this particular export would, in the long term, cause
far more problems than it would ever solve, and cause more divisions and political
argument than that which it would replace, but political legislators invariably
ignore this less palatable part of the concept.
The name of this wonderful concept which caught on with the Governments of Germany,
France, Holland, Portugal and many States and counties throughout the United
States of America? Breed Specific Legislation, or BSL for short. The concept
is simply that dogs of particular breeds or types are inherently
dangerous and should be controlled or banned. The same sweeping generalisations
applied to the owners of these breeds of dog. As many criminals - drug dealers
and thugs - kept such breeds, then, by definition, every owner of those breeds
is the same.
During the Spring of 1991, John Majors Conservative Government introduced
the Dangerous Dogs Act, in response to a spate of particular nasty dog attacks
on people. Bakery worker Frank Tempest from Lincoln was pinned down and savaged
by two alleged American Pit Bull Terriers. Six year-old Rukshana Khan from Bradford
was badly mauled by another dog of the same type.
The media had been agitating for controls against dangerous dogs
since 1989, when 11 year-old Kelly Lynch was killed by two Rottweilers in Scotland.
The Pit Bull attacks of early 91 caused the media campaign
to go into overdrive.
Majors Government was already deeply unpopular and, with a General Election
only months away, the Prime Minister had to be seen to be doing something. Thus
it was that Home Secretary Kenneth Baker brought into being the Dangerous Dogs
Act, having held hasty consultation with the Kennel Club, the RSPCA and a handful
of vociferous experts. The consensus was that specific breeds of
dog were dangerous, thus these should be banned.
Bakers first instinct had been to order all the Pit Bulls in Britain to
be exterminated, but he was forced to back down when dog owners, vets and the
RSPCA refused to accept this genocidal plan. The next best thing was to phase
out the dangerous breeds, so Baker effectively made it illegal to keep
the American Pit Bull Terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasiliero.
There were no members of the latter two breeds in the UK and only one Tosa.
The Pit Bulls were an easy target, so Baker decided that any dog of the type
known as the Pit Bull Terrier should be neutered, registered, tattooed and microchipped
and subject to third-party insurance. These dogs could not be bred from, sold
or exchanged. The ultimate aim was that the breed would die out in ten years
Of course, it didnt work out as planned. Millions of words have been written
in the dog press - and, latterly, in the national media - as to how innocent
crossbreeds, pedigree Staffordshire Bull terriers and basically any dog with
four legs, a head and a tail were seized as unregistered, illegal pit bull types,
incarcerated and, quite often, destroyed.
After six years of vigorous campaigning and the deaths of hundreds of innocent
dogs, the Tory Government decided to appoint a Select Committee to investigate
the findings of the Act. The findings were simple; it didnt work... unless
the benchmark was how many dogs the law would kill. So, just before the 1997
General Election, the Government amended the DDA to be less draconian, by removing
the mandatory death sentence for any dog guilty of being a pit bull
This act of largesse did not prevent the Tories from being booted from office,
and the spectre of Breed Specific Legislation remains in the UK... except that
no politician now seriously believes that such a concept works.
Fast forward to June 2000 in Germany. A tragedy occurred in the city of Hamburg
when a child, six year-old Volkan Kaja, the son of Turkish immigrants, was killed
by two trained fighting dogs.
On June 26th 2000, Volkan was playing in the playground of his school in the
Wildhelmsburg district of Hamburg. Ibrahim K, the son of Turkish immigrants
and his 19 year-old girlfriend Silja W were walking their dogs, Zeus
the trained fighting Pit Bull and Gypsy Silja Ws American
Ibrahim K was notorious in the area and known to the police as a dog fighter,
whilst having convictions for drug dealing and theft. 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 K was walking
it that fateful day.
K claimed that he had his dogs on the lead, but let them off in order for them
to toilet. All of sudden the dogs ran off, jumped a 1.5 meters (5
foot) high wall and ran onto a school playground. There they attacked Volkan.
The accused declared that he had run after and tried to get the dogs off the
child, claiming that five times he had forcibly opened their jaws I tried
to get them off he said. But the dogs carried on biting.
In the end K 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 and shot both dogs dead, then arrested K and W.
Naturally, the German media went into overdrive. As with the British media in
1991, they had been running stories about dangerous dogs for many
months prior to the tragedy. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder immediately went on
the offensive, declaring that all fighting dogs would be outlawed
in Germany. Initially, it was left to the 16 individual German Lander (States)
parliaments to proscribe which breeds should be banned, whilst the Federal Government
attempted to gain a consensus from the Lander to draw up a definitive list of
breeds to be banned nationally. Fortunately, the Lander would not reach such
a consensus, although unfortunately, individual States tried to outdo each other
by introducing harsher legislation against dogs than their neighbours.
Meanwhile, dog owners in Germany became ostracised. There were lurid reports
of dog owners being spat at, sworn at and attacked in the streets. At least
three dogs were killed by angry mobs of citizens, while the politicians and
the media fanned the flames, doing nothing to criticise such attacks, and the
police could only advise dog owners to be careful, before questioning
them as to whether their dog was a fighting dog.
The tone for the debate about Fighting Dogs was set
early on. British dog owner Catherine Walker, resident in Austria and married
to a German, wrote to Schroeder direct. Walkers e-mail was polite and
informative. She pointed out that BSL did not work, and that any legal penalties
for dog attacks should be awarded against irresponsible owners of dangerous
dogs, not across the board legislation for all breeds perceived as dangerous.
She received a one-word reply from Schroeders office: Bulls**t.
From here, the German Vice-Chancellor Otto Schilly announced the Federal Governments
intention to call upon the European Parliament to impose a ban on Bull breeds
throughout Europe. The listed breeds included the Staffordshire Bull Terrier,
an extremely popular breed in the UK and many other countries, and one which
had not harmed anybody.
It is well known that the formation of the Internet group DogHolocaust was a
source of complete annoyance to the German authorities, as it placed their misguided
plans on the world stage and generated millions of complaints to the Government.
But Schroeders Government ignored the protests - including many demonstrations
staged by thousands of dog owners throughout Germany - and pressed ahead with
Unfortunately for them, the British Kennel Clubs Press Officer Phil Buckley,
a key campaigner from day one, briefed the British delegation to the crucial
meeting in September 2000, and the EU plan was shelved. The opinion of the gathered
nations was that canine legislation was a matter for individual countries, not
the EU, much to the annoyance of the German Government.
In December 2000, Ibrahim K was found guilty of GBH by negligence
by a court in Hamburg and sentenced to three and half years imprisonment.
The judge handed down this comparatively light sentence on the grounds that
the prosecution could not actually prove anything. There were NO witnesses that
maintained their statements that the dogs were trained. Contrary to early newspaper
reports, there was no proof from the autopsy on Zeus that the dog had been given
any drugs, nor that it had any scars from dog fights. Similarly, there was no
such proof relating to the American Stafford, Gypsy.
The only evidence that the dogs were in any way dangerous was the record that
the dogs had bitten before and that they had not been leashed or muzzled at
the time of the incident, despite a court ruling that they should be muzzled
and leashed in public.
The main point for the judge to consider was whether or not Ibrahim K could
foresee that such a tragedy was bound to happen. The judge found that it could
NOT be foreseen.
And this is, indeed, contrary to what the dog edicts state, based on the presumption
that dogs of certain breeds will act dangerously. If the judge had followed
the Fighting Dog edicts, he would have had to decide yes,
because it was a Pit Bull. But he did not.
The judges ruling has legal ramifications for the German Federal and States
Governments, insofar as nobody can predict or say with certainty that a particular
breed of dog can be dangerous and liable to attack. Therefore, the harsh laws
inflicted upon Germanys dog owners could be ruled illegal by either the
German Supreme Courts or the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite the fact that a legal challenge to the Fighting Dog laws
is pending, the Federal Government pushed ahead with its plans to effectively
ban Fighting Breeds from entering Germany. On Friday, February 16th
2001, tough laws regarding fighting dogs came into force in Germany when the
Bundesrat (upper house of Parliament) decided on an import and breed ban on
four dog breeds, despite numerous protests from dog lovers and the fact that
such a ban is contrary to EU law.
The Upper House passed the new regulations with minimal debate. According to
this, the owners of so-called fighting dogs will have to demonstrate
their knowledge of keeping dogs of these listed breeds.
Under the new law, it is now illegal to breed, sell or even keep Fighting
Dogs without a permit from the local authority. Anyone found to be keeping
a listed breed without a permit would be punished under the new
law, facing up to two years in prison or a heavy fine.
A complete import ban applies for four breeds listed as Fighting Dog breeds,
namely the Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bullterrier
and Bullterrier, together with any crossbreeds of the same.
It is also forbidden in future to breed dogs if it has to be expected that the
progeny will have a higher inherited aggression level, although
just how the German authorities would determine such a factor is not stated.
Meanwhile, other countries stand by to enact BSL-based laws to ban dogs, following
Germanys example. The British Government has stated that it would resist
any such legislation from Europe - perhaps having learnt that BSL really doesnt
work. Meanwhile, some countries, such as Austria and Czechoslovakia have rejected
BSL, while France, despite its close relationship with Germany, has toned down
its BSL by not including Staffordshire Bull Terriers on the banned
Even so, the tentacles of BSL stretch insidiously around the world. Australia
is considering such measures, various Canadian and American States already are
enacting it. Opposition to BSL continues apace through pressure groups such
as Dogs At Risk, DOMINO and the DogHolocaust Internet List. It simply isnt
good enough for British dog owners shrug off the laws in Europe and think that
they wont affect them - if unchecked, they most certainly will. Breed
Specific Legislation is a shortsighted, short-term solution enacted for political
expedience. But its cost is human freedom and human rights, and, worse, the
lives of innocent dogs.
We ignore it at our peril.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world; indeed, its the only thing that ever has.