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European Dog Laws:
Press officer taken ‘off duty’



IN A country beset by the injustices of Breed Specific Legislation, it was a small, but satisfying victory for anti-BSL campaigners when an official complaint against a Police Commissioner's Press Secretary was upheld and the secretary ended up being transferred out of the press office.

Just recently, the Police H.Q. in Westpfalz appointed a new press secretary. 50-year-old PC Johannes Busser is now head of the press and publicity, answering direct to the Commissioner. That the position became vacant is due to an embarrassing exchange between his predecessor and anti-BSL campaigners.

Just over a year ago the Dangerous Dogs Act for the state of Rheinland Pfalz came into effect, placing strict obligations on dogs’ owners.

The then debate about the law's compulsory muzzle and lead rules, a ban on breeding and individual breed classifications led to discussions on the Internet homepage of the Rheinland Pfalz police.

During March of last year the American Pit Bull Terrier Club of Switzerland posted to the homepage and explained that the American Pit Bull Terrier came from America, not, as claimed by the police, from Britain. It was recognised as a breed in the USA since 1870 and not at all bred to show aggression, but instead "showed the greatest bite inhibition of all dog breeds".

These explanations provoked a terse reaction from the press secretary of the police headquarters, PC Lauter.

Lauter mailed a reply to a club member and told him to "save him from such club rubbish".
The policeman also surmised that such dogs were used in the southern states in the USA to chase and kill fleeing slaves 150 years ago.

Too honest

The e-mail ended with the words: "I hope you are as strong as the breed you represent and can cope with an honest word."

This was rather too honest for some dog lovers, who took great exception to Lauter's remarks. This led to a great deal of protest on the Internet, which in turn was referred to the Home Secretary in Mainz, Mr Walter Zuber, when it became an official complaint.

The press secretary was condemned because, though he insisted he was responding privately, he used the mail address of the police with the "Press Office" header to compose his answering mail. Not even the explanation within the mail, that he did not have access to the Internet at home and didn't know the postal address of the breed club was of any mitigation for his behaviour.

The Home Secretary viewed the officer's actions as being "damaging the public image of the German state and the German police in the eyes of the world," as well as using the press office to publish his own opinions -in writing - of her personal his rejection of existing laws and county acts.

Zuber was asked to have the policeman pass a psychological test to make sure he was actually able to do his job and generally take him out of the service.

The minister reacted immediately. He told the complainant in a letter dated March 15th. that police chief Gerd Braun had removed the officer from his job.

Also the "formal complaints procedure will be followed". The police chief published an apology on the Internet and declared he "regretted and rejected the reaction of his officer."

Own opinion

He added, quite categorically that this man had not been authorised to give his private opinions on a mail received in his official capacity, not was he authorised to use the internet connection of the police for this.

Talking to the Rheinpfalz newspaper, Braun stated that the former press secretary had been moved at the time, but had not been reduced in rank. He was now in a "very responsible job in the traffic office, in line with his rank."

Braun did not lay out any firmer guidelines for the press office when dealing with the Internet. He "sees it as given that officers don't send out their own opinion under the heading of the police."

As far as the police and the Home Secretary are concerned, the hatchet has been buried, where it comes to the Internet. Braun has since taken his apology off the police's home site, the dog breeders see the case as closed since the officer has been moved -although there have been some sarcastic comments left on the website.

(with thanks to the DogHolocaust Internet List)