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New Zealand BSL fightback

DOG OWNERS in New Zealand are staging a massive fightback against proposed Breed Specific Legislation and an anti-dog media onslaught in which Staffordshire Bull terriers are erroneously cited as ‘dangerous dogs’, following a spate of particularly nasty dog attacks, two of which involved children.

Radio stations and TV programs still hyping the dangerous dogs issue, taking a decidedly anti-dog stance which has led to many dog owners – even those with non-bull breeds – being harangued in public. The organised anti lobby group are driving a huge campaign, enlisting the backing of the father of one of the child victims as a spokesman calling for draconian BSL.

Anti BSL campaigner Marion Harding of the New Zealand Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club told OUR DOGS: "Carolina Anderson’s father threatened this and he is achieving it. The Government has placed the Local Government Amendment Bill (No 2) (the part pertaining to Dog Control only) back to a Parliamentary select committee. This amendment bill is an amendment to the existing Dog control Act 1996 that was put before a select committee in November 1999 and passed by that committee then. It went into someone's bottom drawer and stayed there until it resurfaced last week.

Marion explains that the media in New Zealand are perpetrating exactly the same misinformation against ‘dangerous breeds’ as the British media did in 1991 and more recently the German media in 2000. After these media onslaughts, BSL-related legislation was enacted in both cases.

"The media continues to misname the breed-type of dogs involved in the attacks on two children, even though the respective city council officials have verified that they were crossbreeds with no resemblance to American Staffordshire Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers," adds Marion.

Marion goes on to explain an interesting example of how breed specific laws do not work in practice: "One interesting story appears this week in a local newspaper of a woman breeding ‘staffie pitbull cross’ puppies. She says she has bred 78 puppies from two bitches in the last 2 and half years and never had any trouble. There is a photo of a Bull Terrier and another of what looks as though it could be a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.

" I followed this through myself. The local council dog control people of that area told me today that one is registered as a Bull Terrier and the other as a Staffie cross. This is the Kapiti Coast District Council area. I knew that they had put a bylaw in place that put Pitbulls on a restricted dog register. This according to their bylaws meant that Pitbulls must all be spayed and neutered, the registration fee is much higher, dogs must be kept behind a high secure fence and muzzled in public. So, I asked how this woman was able to breed pitbull crosses in their area.

"The long and the short of my conversation was that there are now 275 Staffie crosses registered with the Kapiti Coast District Council. There are NO pitbulls registered. The dog control officer acknowledges that many of those 275 are not Staffie crosses and are pitbulls.

He says that they are better registered as Staffie crosses where he can keep an eye on them, than not being registered at all."

Over the past three 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’.