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German Dog Laws Update
European Commission slaps down Germany’s breed plans

BRITISH OWNERS of Staffordshire Bull Terriers are quietly optimistic that plans by the German Federal Government to implement their ban on four Bull breeds - including Staffordshire Bull Terriers - throughout all EU member states have been finally slapped down by the European Commission.

MEP Paul Tyler, who has fought against the introduction of such breed specific legislation, recently received a very positive letter from EU Commissioner David Byrne which indicates, quite clearly, that all attempts by the German Federal Government to implement such legislation have been dismissed at all levels of the EC.

On January 28th 2002, Mr Byrne wrote:- “The Federal Authorities in Germany adopted legislation on dangerous dogs, banning certain breeds, in the interests of public safety. While one may question whether it is the correct policy to focus on individual breeds, we have to be sensitive to their insistence that it is necessary to protect public safety especially in the tragic circumstances which underlie the legislation. Nonetheless, the measure has led to allegations of discrimination against certain breeds, particularly the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

This breed is very popular in the United Kingdom where it is not associated with aggressiveness. The German policy has also been attacked as focusing on breeds of dog rather than on the behaviour of individual animals and/or their owners when there are good grounds to suggest that the latter are the more important factors.

“The Commission has received a lot of complaints and correspondence in the matter and my services and cabinet have met animal welfare groups and canine associations, including the RKC, to discuss these concerns. However, it is very difficult to see a Community dimension to the issue which would allow me to play a constructive role. First and foremost, from the public health perspective, it is viewed in the Member States as a subsidiary issue which does not require any Community involvement. In this respect, I have not received an approach from any Member State on the need for Community legislation in this field. Moreover, it is not clear what legal case under the Treaty could be used to promote public health legislation on the issue of dangerous dogs. In the circumstances I have decided that priority should be given in my services to other animal welfare issues where there is a clear-cut case for Community action.

“It may also interest you to know that Germany did raise the issue of Community measures on dangerous dogs in the Justice and Home Affairs Council [In Autumn 2000]. However, I understand that there was no support for such measures and the issue has not been pursued further in that Council. I understand that efforts to have the matter pursued in other areas of Community competence, for example freedom of movement and agriculture, have also not met with much success for reasons similar to what I have outlined above.
“Clearly, the situation will be kept under review but for the moment the situation in relation to public health is as outlined above. If there is any change in the situation I will ensure that you are informed. In the meantime, your constituents are welcome to maintain their contacts with the Commission services.”

David Levy, KC Representative of the UK’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council commented: “I have received a copy of this letter from Paul Tyler MEP that seems to make clear that we have finally defeated Germany’s plan to extend its misdirected anti-dog legislation to the rest of Europe. This should perhaps be read in conjunction with the letters received by campaigners across Europe from the office of The Secretary General of the European Commission now that the issue has been formally registered as the first step in the official complaint process within Europe.

“Unfortunately it appears that a few other countries around the world have been persuaded to take up similar unwarranted action. It can only be hoped that when they learn of the European Commission view, that they will be persuaded to consider the matter in a more balanced way and restore proper and fair rights to their citizens.

“In the meantime, despite the necessity for the European Commission to avoid censuring the German Government, several of David Byrne’s comments can only be seen as being highly critical of the German stance and supportive of all the people who have raised objections.

“... particularly the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This breed is very popular in the United Kingdom where it is not associated with aggressiveness.”

Over the past few years there has been some criticism that SBT owners have been too insular in their objections to the German legislation but this statement should be read in the context of the SBT Breed Council’s long-standing policy towards Breed Specific Legislation.
Mr Byrne has clearly been persuaded to the view that the SBT demonstrates the irrationality of Germany’s action towards all dogs.

“The German policy has also been attacked as focusing on breeds of dog rather than on the behaviour of individual animals and/or their owners when there are good grounds to suggest that the latter are the more important factors”.

Again, Mr Byrne has clearly understood the need for any government to base its legislation on facts and science rather than gut reaction and the vagaries of the popular press. Surely the German authorities must now recognise that a full and open judicial review is essential before they can claim any credibility for their actions to date.

“What should be more worrying to German citizens is Mr Byrne’s point that other issues “are the more important factors” in dog attacks. This is precisely the point that all the UK’s animal organisations from the Kennel Club, RSPCA, BVA, NCDL, etc. have been trying to make for many years, yet even the British press has failed to understand this point. So long as the national law of any country targets breeds rather than the real causes and indicators of danger then attacks will continue and the dog generally will be castigated.”

Mr Levy goes onto point out that misinformation via the press is used in the UK as well as in Germany on the subject of ‘dangerous’ dogs:

“It is a matter of fact that the few serious dog attacks in the UK over the past 2 to 3 years have NOT involved the breeds that are normally blamed, yet lesser incidents involving Staffords, Rottweilers and Dobermanns continue to make front page news in local newspapers. It can be no coincidence that cases continue to come to court under section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act whilst the public continues to be misinformed by the emphasis remaining on breeds.

“The Kennel Club chairs the DLAG meetings that evolved from the DDA Reform Group specifically to commence a review of all dog related law in the UK. Until governments across Europe and perhaps the wider world begin a process of consultation with the animal welfare organisations people will continue to be injured as a direct result of the actions of criminal or improperly educated owners.”