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Pitting against the type
- twelve years on it’s still happening

Nick Mays examines the breed specific laws which are becoming the vogue down under.

THE BREED specific dog control laws due to be ushered in by the New Zealand Government are, as reported previously, closely based on the UK’s own flawed and draconian 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act.

Although the new law does not outlaw any breeds, it does target four ‘dangerous’ breeds American Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Japanese Tosas and Filas Brasiliero will be required to be muzzled in public.

However, the Government’s own guidelines relating to the new law leaves the door wide open for the same kind of abuses against family pets as was perpetrated – and is still perpetrated – against dogs in the UK under the DDA.

The guideline states:

It will initially be up to local councils, or their dog control officers, to determine whether a dog belongs to one of these breeds to any significant extent. The owner of the dog will have a right of objection to the council against the classification with the opportunity to prove that the dog is not one of the restricted breeds.

At once it is clear that not only is the burden of proof reversed – as in the DDA – and the dog is pronounced guilty until proven innocent, with the owner being given the so-called ‘opportunity’ to prove that the dog is not of a restricted breed. Also, the definition of whether or not a dog is "of the breed" (in the UK "of the type") rests with the subjective knowledge and opinion of local authority employees.

New Zealand based anti-BSL campaigner Marion Harding fears that Staffordshire Bull Terriers – already erroneously slammed by the media in their anti-dog campaign over the past two months – will be routinely mis-identified as American Pit Bull Terriers.

"What’s equally worrying is that I’ve heard Stafford owners saying that the new law won’t affect them and it’s not down to us to fight for Pit Bulls," says Marion, "But from what I’ve heard of how the DDA worked in the UK, Staffords and Stafford crosses will be fair game for seizure and then it’s down to the owners to prove that their dog is not a Pit Bull."


Marion’s fears are well grounded. In the early days of the DDA, some enlightened individuals within the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed fraternity saw the writing on the wall and urged that decisive action against the DDA be taken. But the prevailing mood amongst many Staffordshire Bull terrier owners was "it won’t affect us, our dogs aren’t Pit Bulls."

It soon became clear that SBTs were "fair game" and not only were many Stafford crosses seized as Pit Bull ‘types’, a number of pedigree Staffordshire Bull Terriers were seized and actually found ‘guilty’ in court of being Pit Bull ‘types’ – even though they had Kennel Club pedigrees to prove their ancestry.

Gizmo, although a purebred, KC-registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, albeit a slightly taller than usual specimen was, in the eyes of the law, a Pit Bull ‘type’

One infamous case from September 1997 concerned ‘Gizmo’, a pedigree SBT owned by Patrick McGrath. The dog was seized by Metropolitan Police Officers as an unregistered, illegal Pit Bull ‘type’ and it was down to Mr McGrath to prove that his dog was not of the type. Many would have thought that the dog’s official KC pedigree showing that it was a purebred SBT from generations of SBTs would have seen the case thrown out of court. This was not so.

During the court hearing, the police officer ‘expert’ faced cross-examination relating to his assessment of the dog being a Pit Bull ‘type’ when it was, in fact, a KC-registered Stafford.

The transcript makes worrying reading:

DEFENCE: Do you dispute the (dog’s) registration?

OFFICER: In my experience of Kennel Club registration, it means very little.

DEFENCE: Do you not trust KC records?

OFFICER: No. I would not.

The officer then went on to make the outrageous assertion that a KC pedigree could "be bought from a pet shop."

The judge in the case ruled that Gizmo, although a purebred, KC-registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, albeit a slightly taller than usual specimen was, in law, a Pit Bull ‘type’.

A similar case concerned that of ‘Bruno’, another rangy, but purebred Stafford, seized by police from its owner Sharon Kerr in March 2000. By clever legal footwork, the prosecution managed to debunk the expert evidence of Staffordshire Bull Terrier judge Alec Walters by suggesting that he did not ‘score’ the dog against the American Dog Breeder’s Association standard for the Pit Bull Terrier and had therefore been subjective in declaring the dog to be a Stafford.


The court accepted this and ruled that, once again, a purebred, KC registered, pedigree SBT was, in law, a Pit Bull ‘type’. Alec Walters furiously denounced the ruling afterwards saying that if he used the ADBA standard on other breeds, a Great Dane would score 79% ‘Pit Bull’ characteristics.

Marion Harding has compiled a wealth of information to show that Staffords are not a dangerous breed, but have been unfairly demonised in New Zealand.

"There have been many dangerous dog surveys taken throughout the world in recent years. They attempt to identify the most dangerous breeds. Massey University undertook such a survey in 1996. The reported results in the NZ Veterinary Journal 44,138-141, 1996 show that out of 108 breeds and 6 crosses ranked there were 10 who were identified as extremely aggressive and none of these were American Pit Bull Terriers, Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers or American Staffordshire Terriers. Other surveys show a range of differing results and some of the breeds that top the lists are indeed surprising.

The Internal Affairs Interim report (April 2003) regarding dog bites statistics, appears to have been compiled without due regard for basic scientific statistical principles. It is seriously flawed and has grossly misrepresented the Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed and quite possibly other breeds as well.

"The media has repeatedly misnamed the "breed" of dogs that attacked Carolina Anderson and Angel Daniels. In both cases, the authorities identified the attack dogs as crossbreeds.

Even after the media has been asked to print corrections they have continued to misname the breeds. On March 22nd, 'The Press' newspaper reported that Carolina Anderson had been attacked by a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The description had changed from a Labrador type dog with a Mastiff head on February 2nd, through the range to a Staffordshire Bull Terrier many weeks later.

"Who identifies the biters at the time of attack? How accurately do the media report the description? The National Dog Wardens Association in Great Britain has written that once a particular breed is highlighted by the media in respect of dog attacks, virtually all subsequent incidents are then reported by the public as that same breed even where this is palpably not true. In the UK this was an effect seen in the early ‘90s following media coverage of Pit Bull Terriers."

Dave Levy, KC spokesman for the Staffordshire Bull Terrier Breed Council was quite upbeat about the proposed laws and commented: "My feelings are that there are some issues in the proposed laws that raise concerns, but it could have been a lot worse, given the media furore. I think the Government should be congratulated on taking note of the great volume of scientific evidence provided to their inquiry by various agencies around the world. Thanks must go particularly to the British Kennel Club and the BVA, both of whom have been extremely active and helpful in providing information against BSL in general and to demonstrate why Staffordshire Bull Terriers in particular should not be considered a dangerous breed."

On remand and on parade; dogs were measured and photographed

In many ways, Mr Levy’s sentiments are sound – the New Zealand law is far less draconian than the UK’s DDA ever was, but once again, the onus of a dog’s identification is stacked in favour of enforcement officials, whilst the owner I forced to prove otherwise. It is clear then that New Zealand’s Staffordshire Bull Terrier breeders and owners should not rest on their laurels; mis-identification is the prime tenet of BSL and, as British law has shown, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier may have an ‘N’th generation KC pedigree, but in law it is also a Pit Bull.

In fact, if it has four legs, a head, and a tail and says "Woof" it’s a Pit Bull – it’s the owner who has to prove otherwise.