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New Zealand Government set to muzzle four breeds

IN A COMPLETE U-turn from its stated position, the New Zealand Government have decided to enact Breed Specific legislation in an attempt to appease media outcries for action after a number of children were attacked by dogs earlier this year.

Indeed, the inspiration for the NZ Government’s proposed ‘Dog Control Initiatives’ is clear – the law is a virtual straight lift of the UK’s own discredited Dangerous Dogs Act, the ‘template’ for unjust BSL laws around the world.

However, the NZ Government have shied away from total bans or mandatory death sentences and have attempted in certain areas to place the emphasis of their new dog laws on the irresponsible owner and thus punish the deed rather than the breed – or at least, in some ways.

Local Government Minister, the Hon Chris Carter announced the new law on Monday of this week.

So-called ‘Fighting dog breeds’ - American Pit Bull Terriers, Brazilian Filas, Dogo Argentinos and Japanese Tosas - are to be muzzled in public. These are exactly the same four breeds cited under the UK’s DDA – and it is extremely unlikely that there are any Filas, Dogos or Tosas in New Zealand.

"These dogs are either banned or have restrictions placed on them in many other countries, such as Australia, the Netherlands, the UK and many German states. They have been bred for fighting and are internationally recognised as posing a considerable risk if they attack," Mr Carter said, neglecting to realise that the ‘international recognition’ of them as being a considerable risk is a subjective one.

"The Government has decided not to ban ownership of these dogs but instead to require the muzzling of them in public. We feel such a requirement recognises the increased risk to public safety these breeds pose while leaving intact people's right to choose their pet."

Mr Carter said the Government had also decided to introduce a ban on the importation of any more Pit Bulls, Brazilian Filas, Japanese Tosas or Dogo Argentinos into New Zealand.

"These initiatives form just one part of a package of changes designed to bolster existing dog control legislation," Mr Carter said.

"The package seeks to improve public safety through the use of stronger deterrents, new preventative measures, more extensive powers of enforcement, education and better information about dogs."

"We have no desire to prevent people owning dogs but if they do, they must realise they are taking on a responsibility and the law should reflect that. Unfortunately, the statistics clearly show those most affected by dog attacks are children under 15."

Other so-called ‘initiatives’ in the package are:

An increase in the maximum penalty for the worst offences under the existing Dog Control Act to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $20,000;

A new maximum penalty of $3000 under almost all other sections of the Dog Control Act;

A new discretionary power to require dogs that a territorial authority believes may be dangerous to be muzzled in public;

A direction to councils that areas used by children and families should be areas where dogs must be leashed;

A requirement that all councils review their dog control policies in line with the above direction by July 2004;

A requirement that all dog owners have a securely fenced area for their dog allowing unimpeded access to at least one door by July 2006;

A clarification of dog control officers' power to seize any dog on private property that has attacked or rushed as if to attack;

A new power enabling dog control officers to seize unregistered dogs on private property but not in a dwelling house;

The removal of the category of probationary dog owner, leaving only the category of disqualified dog owner;

The phased introduction of micro-chipping, with the first requirement being that all newly registered dogs have micro-chip identification by July 2006;

The development of a national database on dogs and dog attacks;

A 150% increase in the infringement fees councils can charge when enforcing dog control laws - the maximum fee will rise to $1000;

A public education campaign about dogs, dog behaviour and what to watch out for with children around dogs.

"The initiatives will be put into a supplementary order paper of proposed amendments to the Local Government Reform Bill Nos 2 currently before the Local Government and Environment select committee," Mr Carter said.

The new dog laws will just add more regulation, more costs, and more fines for law-abiding dog owners, Opposition ACT (Association of Consumers & Taxpayer’s Party) New Zealand Leader Richard Prebble declared.

"Very few registered dogs attack anyone. Muzzling some breeds of dogs is just populist politicking. Studies show that it's the popular and usually placid Labradors that have bitten most people," said Mr Prebble in a scathing attack on the Government.

"It is believed that Dogo Argentinos aren't even in New Zealand that shows how ludicrous this legislation is. They might as well include putting muzzles on dragons and leashes on unicorns.

"Dog rangers say that the real problem dogs are owned by lawless owners. The worst culprits are the gangs that train dogs to fight and attack, and don't register their dogs in the first place. These new laws will have no effect on the lawless.

"The fact is that the problem has never been a lack of laws, but a lack of targeted enforcement against criminals who own dogs," Mr Prebble said.

The Government’s proposals were welcomed by Ray Greer, President of the New Zealand Kennel Club in a rather sinister case of déjà vu, echoing the words of the UK’s canine establishment when the DDA was announced in 1991."The Government’s proposed amendments to the Dog Control Act are robust well considered and timely," said Mr Greer, speaking "…on behalf of thousands of responsible dog owners,

An NZKC press release welcomed the government’s action, especially in relation to the increased penalties planned for owners of dogs that have caused harm and wider powers of entry for Dog Control Officers.

Mr Greer went on to note that dangerous dogs had become a particularly emotional issue in recent months with a spate of vicious attacks. At times like this it would have been very easy for a knee-jerk reaction to occur and hasty and ill-considered legislation to be passed.

Instead, the Government has listened to sensible advice and learnt from mistakes by this, Mr Greer noted.

The concept of educational initiatives is also welcomed and Kennel Clubs throughout NZ will welcome the chance for further dialogue with local authorities on this matter.

"We firmly believe that the dangerous dog issue comes down to responsible ownership factors such as environment, training, victim behaviour heredity and health issues are all important and education on these issues must be beneficial.

Anti-BSL campaigner and Staffordshire Bull Terrier owner Marion Harding said she "despaired" of the proposed new laws and feared that they would only give carte blanche to the authorities to seize Staffordshire Bull Terriers as alleged Pit Bulls.

Phil Buckley of the Kennel Club said: "We have noted the material and media releases that are currently coming from New Zealand with regard to their recent introduction of 'dangerous dog' laws. It would appear that the authorities have had a long, close look at the essentially flawed UK DDA 91 and have 'cherrypicked' from it and made amendments that they deem necessary. New Zealand politicians are seeking to bolster existing canine legislation to ultimately improve public safety by introducing stronger deterrents and more extensive powers of enforcement. They have further gone on record to state that they "have no desire to prevent people owning dogs but if they do, they must realise they are taking on a responsibility and the law should reflect that."

"If the politicians adhere to what they have said, then it would appear that the irresponsible owners who unfairly hinder the vast majority of responsible owners, will be targeted and dealt with. Let us hope that this is the case, as new laws have no effect on the lawless, as has been proven with the DDA in the UK.

"Whilst not agreeing with the concept of Breed Specific Legislation, which clearly has not worked in the UK and other areas of the world, at least the relevant authorities have appeared to have been very thorough in their research and have attempted to address the issue, and others, realising that something needs to be done with regard to irresponsible owners. Apparently, Local Government will continue to seek public views on this issue and the Kennel Club continues to communicate with our New Zealand counterparts, who have asked us for assistance."

Juliette Glass, Founder of the Fury Defence Fund expressed a deep sense of foreboding about the new laws and how innocent dogs, including Staffordshire Bull Terriers could be targeted as the result of poorly-drafted, vague legislation.

"We doubt very much if the Dogo, Fila or Tosa even exist in New Zealand, so once again the American Pit Bull Terrier will become the sacrificial lamb," said Mrs Glass. "How tragic that this should occur at the most solemn time in the Christian calendar, i.e. on the occasion of the crucifixion on Good Friday.

"We would urge New Zealand dog folk not to succumb to the cruelty of protecting only their own breed whilst sacrificing another. If they do not fight vigorously to protect ALL dogs against BSL, then it will only be a matter of time before history repeats itself and not only crossbreeds and mongrels bit also pure bred Staffordshire Bull Terriers (as on these shores) will be dragged off the streets by uncaring officials, many never to be seen again.