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Now Gibraltar embraces BSL

THE ISLAND of Gibraltar is to become the latest European country to introduce Breed Specific Legislation – for no other apparent reason than a desire to ‘harmonise’ with the UK and Spain, both of which have breed specific laws.

In a press statement dated June 2nd, the Gibraltar Social Democratic Government announced the introduction of the Dangerous Dogs Ordnance which came into effect a month earlier, on May 7th. The statement reads:

‘Within five months of the legislation being enacted dogs known as Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshires, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino or Fila Braziliero and dogs appearing to be a cross breed of or substantially of one of these types, must either be exported permanently, destroyed or exempted. Failure to take one of these courses of action or anyone who imports such a dog, which has now become a prohibited import, will be liable to prosecution.

‘The Minister for the Environment may grant compensation of up to £200 to the owner of any dog destroyed within this period.

‘Any person being the custodian of any dog to which the Ordinance applies and which is registered and licensed under the provisions of the Animals and Birds Ordinance may apply within two months of the legislation being enacted i.e. by 7th July 2003 to the Commissioner of Police for an exemption to keep the dog on the grounds that it does not and will not foreseeably represent a danger to the public or property. Application for exemption forms and further particulars may be obtained from the Environmental Agency at No.37 Town Range.

‘Unless a dog of the type described above has been exempted, it must be permanently exported or destroyed by 7th October 2003.’

Rebecca Wilhelm, delegate of the Spanish Dogo Club (Asociacion Española del Dogo Argentino) was scathing in her indicetement of the ease in which the Gibraltan Government were able to enact BSL, as they were not only back by the Liberal Opposition party in Parliament, but had the tacit complicity of the Gibraltan Kennel Club.

‘As far as I know nobody opposes BSL in Gibraltar,’ says Wilhelm. ‘When the Spanish Dogo Club contacted the Gibraltar Kennel Club it was quite clear they where in favour of BSL. We sent them and the Government’s Chief Minister lots of info to make them change their mind and as we had no news, we thought it was good news, but it wasn't. The GKC never contacted us, it is obvious to say that there are no breeders of these breeds in their territory, and I'm quite sure there's not a single Dogo, Fila or Tosa living in Gibraltar. I don't know about PBTs or AmStaffs but that's not the point as we all know from previous experience with BSL in other countries.

‘With the information I've managed to find, there hasn't been a single attack to a human being, only some incidents with other dogs and a Barbary Ape, whilst the only dog that died had been attacked by Rottweilers. It's always the same story: As I put it to the non doggy people, the cars that produce more accidents are Fiats so let's ban Ferraris!! This usually gets the point to them of how stupid it is to ban any breed.’

The legislation was prepared in consultation with the Gibraltar Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Gibraltar Kennel Club, the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic, the Gibraltar Women's Association and various other representative bodies, Government departments and members of the public who took the opportunity to comment on the Consultation Paper circulated by the Government.

The legislation identifies certain types of dogs which are "known to be dangerous" and which are often bred for fighting. These are dogs of the type known as Pit Bull Terrier. American Staffordshire, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and the Fila Braziliero and dogs appearing to be a cross breed of one of these types.

The legislation seeks to ensure that anyone with a genuine family pet which can be proved not to be a danger to the public, need have no fear for their dog. If certain strict criteria are met, the competent authority, in this case the Royal Gibraltar Police, is empowered to grant an annual Exemption Certificate for a specific dog. Such an Exemption Certificate may be revoked at any time if it is considered that the dog concerned has or is likely to become a danger to the public. A committee consisting of a veterinary surgeon, and representatives of the GSPCA and the Gibraltar Kennel Club will be consulted before any Exemption Certificate is issued. The applicant for such a certificate will be required to present, at his own expense, such evidence as the committee may require of his own suitability as the custodian of such a dog, the dog's nature, the fact that it has been neutered and had an identification microchip inserted, and proof that the owner has taken out insurance in respect of any injury or damage caused to a third party by the dog concerned.

Unworkable

In preparing this legislation, the Government took the policy decision "not to copy the UK legislation" (the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991) but to prepare it so that it was "tailor-made for the circumstances in Gibraltar."

According to a Government circular explaining how the Gibraltar BSL Ordnance will differ from the DDA: " In the UK, after the media highlighted attacks by Pit Bull Terriers and other types of dogs on humans, the Dangerous Dogs Act was passed in something of a rush. It provided what is generally regarded to be a virtually unworkable system which has proved unpopular with all concerned and ineffective. The Government has wanted to avoid falling into the same trap which critics of the legislation in UK allege is the end result of having passed the legislation there in a hurry.

The Government's decision to table a Dangerous Dogs Bill at the House of Assembly meeting which opens next Friday is a case of better late than never. It will be recalled that the Opposition has been pressing for the introduction of such legislation for over a year."

On 1 March 2002, Opposition Environment spokesman Dr Reggie Valarino gave notice to the House that he was seeking leave to introduce a Dangerous Dogs Bill into the House of Assembly. This Bill had been drafted by Barrister Fabian Picardo based on the UK’s DDA legislation (leaving aside the fact that the DDA has been proven to be unjust). At the time, the Government took offence that the Opposition had drafted their own Bill and said that they were working on one of their own which would be presented to the House at a later date. The Government then proceeded to vote down the Opposition's motion to get the Bill debated.

The Opposition and other groups continued to press the Government on this issue throughout the year given their inactivity on this issue. The Government then embarked on a lengthy consultation exercise with interested parties, which included the Opposition, at the end of last year. The Government and the Minister in charge Ernest Britto was accused of not giving adequate reasons for the considerable length of time that it took to produce this law.

Rebecca Wilhelm sums up her disgust at the introduction of BSL to Gibraltar with the Gibraltan KC’s blessing: "I used to go to Gibraltar every year to their dog show with, Boludo, my Dogo Argentino and his breeder, and this year I was going start professional handling with two Akitas and two Shibas, but I'm not sure if I'll go now. I prefer to loose the money than to be in a place where my dog is not welcome at all."