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Now Spanish BSL imminent

ANTI BSL campaigners in the UK and around the world have now received confirmation that the Spanish Government is in the process of introducing Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) to restrict ownership of eight named breeds.

The affected breeds are the Pit Bull, American Staffordshire Terrier, Rottweiler, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, Japanese Tosa, Akita and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In order to own any of these dogs an owner must pass a 'citizenship test' which calls for them to be an adult, not have a criminal record, take out third party insurance to a specified value and be 'physically strong enough to control' the dog involved.

Whilst the restrictions being implemented may appear almost reasonable compared to the draconian breed bans of Germany (and, to a certain extent, those of the UK), nevertheless, the idea that such restrictions should only apply to the eight specified breeds is precisely the same error of judgement and emphasis that has led to the deaths of two children in Germany, despite the introduction of rules to control the ownership of other so called "dangerous" breeds under the so-called 'Fighting Dogs' laws.

The list unsurprisingly excludes any Spanish breeds such as the Presa Canarios - the same breed recently involved in a dreadful attack last year on Diane Whipple. It is perhaps one clear indication of the political nature of Breed Specific Legislation that no country ever seems to ban its own native breeds, as indeed Germany has not sought to restrict GSDs, despite this breed topping that nation's dog biting statistics..

A point of concern for Spanish dog owners is that once again, it will be down to the local police to decide whether somebody meets the criteria for obtaining a licence - a subjective process at best.

Dave Levy, KC Liaison Officer for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council voiced his concerns for this process: "Of course anyone applying to the police for a licence to own a 'dangerous dog' is immediately opening themselves to suspicion and it seems likely that any anti-dog police officer will be unlikely to approve a licence - then what happens to the dog?"

Levy continues: "Once the Staffordshire Bull Terrier or any other affected breed is 'named' how long can it be until further restrictions are applied or another country adds the breed to their list of banned or restricted breeds? That was the basis of the 'Domino' campaign - as one country 'falls' to BSL and named breeds, others follow suit, in the 'domino effect' and seems to be coming to pass! Germany, Austria now Spain ........... Where next?

"Please spread the word and please ask people to write to the Spanish Embassy in their own country, the Spanish Government and to their own political representative. Once again our breed is under threat and if we cannot stop the dominoes falling then it may not be too long before we in the UK are threatened too."

Spanish dog owner and campaigner Daniel Meseguer Bernal, Chairman of the Bull Terrier Club, Spain said "It all began in January 1999, when an Argentinian Dogo killed a child in the Canary Islands. At that time it seemed that was no important World News. TV, Newspapers and Radio went on for days talking about this sad accident. Another two terrible accidents followed, some months later, also with the result of a child being killed. This time it was caused by a Rottweiler and a Staffordshire. Politicians began to frame a 'dangerous dogs' law which they have now completed."

Ignored threat

Bernal feels that Spanish dog owners ignored the threat to their pets for too long, and did not launch a serious enough campaign to ensure that the laws were fair and not breed specific in basis.

"I think nothing really serious has been done and, well this is what we deserve. It is not only eight breeds being involved in this law, it also states; 'Apart from those breeds, there will be included, those weighing over 20 kg, those having a chest perimeter of 60 cm, those with 'big heads and deep throats'.

"Owners should pass a test to be allowed to own one of those dogs and I don't know how many other things. We have time until the end of June to make our representations to the Government, but let me say something, if I went to try to pass the test, people - Policemen or whoever in charge of it - would look at me, thinking if I'm mad to want to own such a 'dangerous' dog!.

DAVID LEVY, Kennel Club SBT Liaison Officer, writes:

Will there be a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in 2025?

(How long before a majority of European states ban our breed?)

In 1991, the then British government responded to media hysteria and introduced emergency laws that effectively banned four specific breeds/types of dog. Whether it was by intent or design, not a single recognised British breed was included in the first section of the law.

Since then, every piece of potentially flawed legislation is compared by media and politicians alike to the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act and demonstrates the folly of Parliament to mess with things they do not understand just to curry favour.

Soon afterwards, Eire introduced a muzzling law covering about 40 breeds although everyone always says that the law is never used. A year later, Bavaria introduced a law that also banned four named breeds but this time both the Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier were named.

For many years various American towns and cities have introduced by-laws banning or restricting the keeping of particular dogs and the American Kennel Club has become adept at assisting local dog owners to oppose such legislation. In many cases the opposition is eventually successful, the law is shown to be unworkable and unfair, and the laws are changed to reflect a more moderate approach based on the responsibilities of the owners of all dogs.

Government hysteria around the world was sparked again in 1999 when two trained fighting dogs, clearly already well known to the authorities, killed a young child in a vicious attack in a school playground in Germany. Again the politicians and media ranted about the threat posed by these breeds and the result was a year of ever increasing rhetoric that culminated in national laws banning the pit bull, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The national laws effectively extended the original Bavarian law that had been passed virtually unopposed seven years earlier.

In France, laws were introduced that identified breeds of dogs in one of three categories "dangerous", "potentially dangerous" or "safe". There was some confusion because one of the breeds named was the "Staffordshire Terrier". Clearly, government, veterinary organisations, police and dog owners were all confused by this statement. It took over a year to obtain clarification that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was NOT in fact considered to be a category 1 or 2 dog in France, i.e. it was not subject to any breed specific restrictions.

Other countries have considered legislation similar to Germany. Indeed there were several attempts to get the legislation introduced across Europe but fortunately for dogdom, the European Commissioners were less bound to pander to voters and insisted on seeing evidence before they would even accept the need for such legislation. To date, the German authorities have not produced a single thread of such evidence and the European Commission has officially begun to consider proceedings against the German Government for breaching the conventions relating to both human freedom and free trade within the community.

So why am I now posing the question of whether the Stafford will survive until 2025?
Over the past two years, lawmakers in Slovakia, Queensland, Canada, Italy, Austria, Portugal and many others have considered introducing "German type" anti-breed laws. We write to their officials. We explain that we object to the principle of breed specific laws. We provide evidence about how our breed is perceived in the UK and we urge them to not ban the SBT. Whether we have any influence is rarely known. Some politicians reply and usually it is to say either they are not yet decided or that they never intended to introduce such laws anyway (!)

However, now comes news that Spain IS introducing a law that imposes ownership restrictions on eight named breeds INCLUDING THE STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER!

Again, we are unaware of a single shred of evidence that our breed has ever been involved in a single bite incident in Spain, yet the breed is listed. Why?

* Because of the reputation of their ancestors and the fact that the breed's name is similar to others that frequently get banned;

* Because there aren't many Staffords in Spain and the owners are not considered to be numerous enough nor wealthy enough to mount any serious opposition.
There are probably only three countries where the SBT has sufficient presence to have a chance of influencing government: Australia, South Africa and of course the UK. So how can we do that and how can we then help our fellow Stafford owners in other countries?

In the best traditions of "Yes Minister", the British Government's only foray into the dog debate since the DDA amendment in 1997 has been to say "we have no current plans to extend the Dangerous Dogs Act". Ministers and Civil Servants assiduously avoid making any statement confirming that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Bull Terrier have never and do not currently present any specific threat to the public nor do they take any action against EEC states that ban our breeds. After much cajoling they did oppose the German plans to spread their insidious legislation across Europe but that was more on the principle of whether dog law was a suitable subject for European consolidation than any regard for our dogs.

When I have been writing to politicians in other countries I always enclose a copy of the best statements I have by various government and respected authorities to support the argument that our breed is NOT a threat. The letters from the French Government are actually more effective in this regard than anything we have been able to obtain from the staid British Home Office. What we desperately need is:

* A clear statement from the British Home Office that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Bull Terrier are both highly popular breeds in the United Kingdom and do not present any perceived threat to the population. Indeed, on the contrary, both breeds are considered excellent pets;

* Direct contact with any Country planning to implicate either of these breeds in any restrictions. I.e. at least a letter from the Home Office Minister clearly setting out the position of these traditional British breeds in our society and stating that the British Government will actively oppose any restrictions that contravene EEC law.

How can we get this? Only by putting enough pressure on the current government that they realise they can no longer ignore the threat to British dogs. The only way to do that is to get all MPs motivated to speak to the Home Office and Prime Minister and ensure that they realise that not only 250,000 Stafford owners, but 100,000 Bull Terrier owners and another 5.5 million dog owners feel they must do more. There is an advert on television based on the idea that a single ant can achieve little but an entire army can move mountains. What our breed now needs is a vast army of dog owners forcing our Government to take this issue seriously.

* Breed clubs should invite their local MP to their shows and/or handling classes. Demonstrate our dogs as they really are.

* Stafford owners should ALWAYS remember that they are responsible for their dogs' actions. Each and every careless owner adds to a false perception of our breed.

* YOU make an appointment and go to see YOUR Member of Parliament. It is your right, it may take a few weeks but he or she WILL see you.

Will there be a Staffordshire Bull Terrier in 2025? I surely hope so but if governments are allowed to spread their nonsensical legislation without serious opposition then how long will it be until a majority of European states are pandering to consolidate dog law across Europe and how effective might our own Government then be in opposing it.

If you want to Save Our Staffords then act now.