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Fighting back against the negative publicity

A LEADING light in the fight against Breed Specific Legislation has called for a concerted effort from dogdom to fight back against negative press reports about attacks on human beings by ‘dangerous’ dog breeds, whilst also raising the issue sensibly in the political forum.

Writing in the August issue of the Kennel Gazette, David Levy. KC Liaison Officer for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council agrees with the national media on one point – that the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act is insufficient to protect the public from ‘dangerous’ dogs.

Levy writes: "The problem with the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, despite the hard won amendment in 1997, continues to be the emphasis placed on the idea that a dog is dangerous because of its breed rather than its behaviour…"

Pulling no punches in his denunciation of the DDA, Levy adds: "It may not be palatable to some people, and certainly not the politicians like Kenneth Baker who rushed to introduce his conscience saving nonsense, that the breeds that have actually killed people in the UK over the past 50 years include a West Highland White Terrier, Golden Retriever and Jack Russell’. "

Scientific evidence is cited in Levy’s article for proof that "…factors such as the criminal or social background of the owner is far more significant than the type of dog involved." This is juxtaposed with other research into the prevalence of bites by various breeds of dog, all of which are undertaken subjectively by the agencies involved.

Indeed, as Levy points out, identification of the dogs involved in any incident are often highly inaccurate, and the reporting of the dog’s description leaves a lot to be desired: "Of course the newspapers will frequently cite the pit bull, Rottweilers or other powerful dog but this is increasingly being proven, after the event, to be something else entirely….. If the papers have been full of stories about German Shepherds then the public will report anything from a Rough Collie to a briard/dobermann cross as a ‘German Shepherd’."

Hope is offered by the fact that some scientists are beginning to undertake more objective research where circumstances allow, and Levy quotes from an article published in Australia in early May 2002:

"The Australian Veterinary Association, staging its annual conference in Adelaide this week, has been told that determination to enforce tough legislation was needed to address the problem of dangerous dogs and banning specific breeds was not the answer.

AVA spokesperson and animal behaviour consultant, Dr Kersti Seksel, said all breeds of dogs have the potential to be aggressive.

"What is important in addressing the problem of dangerous dogs in our society is to look at the deed and not the breed," Dr Seksel said.

"What this means is ensuring that laws are tough enough to discourage people from turning their pets into dangerous animals either deliberately or through their ignorance about dogs' behaviour."

"…..Targeting a specific breed is not appropriate. The main problems relate to irresponsible ownership and lack of education."

The same enlightened attitude is being demonstrated all over the world. In Austria, Spain and the UK we have seen similar views being expressed by veterinary bodies."

Levy goes onto give a potted history of worldwide BSL, starting with the DDA in the UK in 1991, followed by the Bavarian BSL legislation in 1992 and then, post-2000, the proliferation of BSL around the world, most notably in Germany and the USA.

"Just in 2002 so far we have already had to deal with attempts to ban various breeds, including some perhaps unexpected examples such as Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Maremma Sheepdogs, Akitas, Dogue de Bordeaux and various Mastiffs as well as the "usual" Bull breeds in Austria, Brazil, Canada, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Victoria (Aust). In America, several cities and states have introduced laws banning or restricting American Pitbull Terriers. They then go on to explain that by "Pit bull Terrier" they also include three different breeds, the Amstaff (American Staffordshire Terrier), Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier!" writes an incredulous Levy.

The author concludes that, with proper research – and reportage – dog attacks could be prevented, without resorting the knee-jerk legislation such as the DDA. It’s an uphill struggle, but an upbeat message, ad all of dogdom must help play its part.

"I believe that we can learn to prevent most of the severe attacks," says Levy. " This is also the expressed view of veterinary and animal welfare organisations across the World and including The Kennel Club, NCDL and BVA. What we desperately need is for some rules to be created for the investigation of serious dog bite incidents that will enable us to understand the causes of attacks and begin to educate the "breeders", owners and the general public to prevent escalation in an increasingly crowded world."

"It’s Time To Protect The Public" by David Levy ©
appears in the August issue of the Kennel Gazette