BREED SPECIFIC LEGISLATION is being called for by politicians in New Zealand following a spate of dog attacks in the past two weeks. The situation almost exactly mirrors the prevailing mood at the time when the Dangerous Dogs Act was enacted in the UK in 1991.
Over the past two weeks New Zealanders have been subjected to daily accounts, reports and articles via newspapers, radio and television about the dangerous dogs situation here.
On Sunday, 3rd February the Sunday Star Times newspaper ran a one and a half page feature on dangerous dogs. It coincided with the shocking news of a horrendous dog attack on 7year-old Carolina Anderson while playing in a public park two days earlier. The dog was eventually wrongfully named as an American Staffordshire Terrier.
Carolina will require surgery on her face for years to come and the attack was roundly condemned by all responsible dog owners.
However, the Sunday Star Times feature was ready to go to press prior to the attack. In that article the reporter referred to the dangerous breeds being the so-called fighting breeds. There was an illustration of three breeds of dogs with a short description about them under each photo. One was of two Pit Bulls, one was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the other was a Bull Terrier. The heading above the picture was 'THE BREEDS'. There were short descriptions underneath each photo.
But of great concern to Staffordshire Bull Terrier owners in New Zealand was the inclusion of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier in the first place, particularly as there have been no factual incidents of Staffordshire Bull Terriers biting anyone.
As was the situation in the UK in 1991, the resulting media outcry increased to a level of hysteria. The father of the little girl who had been attacked had a meeting with Prime Minister Helen Clarke and showed her photos of Carolina's face straight after the attack. The Prime Minister commented on TV News after the meeting that "The photos were horrific".
She promised to bring in tighter Dog Control legislation, mentioning the banning of certain dangerous breeds as one option and muzzling all dogs when in public. The Prime Minister has promised to put through legislation quickly. She has called for all Territorial Authorities (local government authorities) to put forward submissions by Wednesday 19th February with regard to the existing Dog Control Act 1996 and its effectiveness.
In the meantime the offending dog's destruction was ordered and the owners now await sentencing. At this point positive identification of the dog was made and it was a crossbreed. It was neither an American Staffordshire Terrier nor, crucially a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Two weeks later, another child was badly bitten requiring 200 stitches to his face. Angel Daniels was riding his bike in the backyard when visiting his Aunt. The Aunt's dog was on a short chain in the backyard. Angel apparently ran into the dog. The newspapers reported the dog to be a Staffordshire Terrier. The Manukau City Council Dog control has since identified the dog as a crossbreed. However, the New Zealand media and politicians appear extremely reluctant to acknowledge these facts and appear hell bent on demonising the Staffordshire Bull terrier as a dangerous breed.
Marion Harding of the New Zealand Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club told OUR DOGS that the situation was "a total nightmare". However, there was a glimmer of hope thanks to the efforts of the worldwide anti-BSL lobby.
"We have had the most wonderful person drop out of the sky here by the name of David Hartley," said Marion. "David offered his services to co-ordinate our efforts for a united response. A submission on behalf of the two New Zealand Staffordshire Bull Terrier clubs and breeders and owners has been sent to the appropriate MPs. David has met with the Auckland City Council, taking our submission to them and our concerns. Words cannot say how much David is valued by us all.
"Those of us who wrote letters for that submission have taken copies of it to our own district Territorial Authorities, or at least I hope we all have. We have all done much more besides, each of us in our own way where ever and when ever we have been able.
"We have been working very closely with and through David Levy, our UK Liaison Officer.
David has pulled out all stops to supply us with relevant material and contacts and has been a tower of strength. Without you behind us David our task would have been so much slower and less effective. You have kept me, at least, on track.
Dave Levy. SBT Liaison Officer for the Kennel Club commented:
"The anger of the families of those injured in these attacks is quite understandable and the vast majority of dog owners will feel deeply for the injured children but it is surely the job of the politicians to provide a genuine response based on the evidence and not merely to pander to the excesses of the media.
"The usual breeds are under threat immediately in New Zealand including Pitbulls, American Staffordshire Terriers, Tosas, Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Rottweilers, Dobes, Akitas and many others which appear indiscriminately in various news articles. Owners have already begun to respond and a 50-page submission has been prepared by Stafford owners and presented to the Auckland Council representatives. The document included letters from the UK from the British Veterinary Association, Kennel Club and National Canine Defence League as well as local veterinary and animal welfare organisations.
"Now we urgently need to demonstrate the views of people around the World to this kind of mindless response to dog attacks that leave the general public at risk because of the false basis on which the laws are targeted and leave perfectly law-abiding citizens marginalized by their own government and their own neighbours.
"We do not want to attack the New Zealand authorities; we need to educate them with information about our dogs and the real value that they bring to our lives. We need to explain that it is bad owners and bad breeders who cause dog attacks and we need to support our colleagues in New Zealand at this very difficult time. Please write to the New Zealand campaign co-ordinators and support a campaign to protect our dogs. The New Zealand campaigners will use the information we provide to demonstrate the level of support Worldwide."
Phil Buckley of the Kennel Club expressed the KCs concern at the escalating calls for BSL in New Zealand, commenting: "The Kennel Club, other organisations and dog lovers throughout the world are becoming increasingly concerned at the increase in breed specific legislation.
The Kennel Club has now travelled to the European Parliament twice to give presentations to the European Parliamentary Intergroup on the Welfare and Conservation of Animals, as incidents involving so called dangerous dogs in several EU Member States have sparked severe reactions and have led some Member States to call for a community initiative to address this problem. In our opinion, this is not the solution.
"What is clear to us is the fact that Breed Specific Legislation promotes a false and dangerous perception that breeds not included will not show aggression. Any dog of any breed, type or mixed breeding can show aggression. Breed Specific Legislation does not discriminate between individual dogs of a breed, many of which would not be predisposed to aggressive behaviour.
Any new legislation must be a response to evidence as opposed to hysteria. A war against specific breeds is badly directed and protects no one. No one wants to see the public unprotected and savage dogs should be humanely destroyed, but a dog must not be condemned just for how it looks.
"We would urge the New Zealand Government to postpone the adoption of Breed Specific Legislation until scientific evidence is made available that conclusively proves that one breed is more likely to bite than another. You may be aware that shortly after the German authorities adopted their draconian anti-dog laws in 2001, they were asked by the European Commission to provide scientific evidence to support this legislation. To date no response has been forthcoming. "
*If you wish to offer your support to the New Zealand anti-BSL campaigners, please e-mail David Hartley at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org