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New Zealand council rejects BSL

A LOCAL authority in New Zealand has defied the official Government line and rejected breed specific dog control laws. Tauranga District Council came out against the proposed tough new laws on ‘dangerous’ dogs after being persuaded by its top animal control officer the changes will fail to solve the problem.

The council has voted to reject many of the Government's new measures aimed at stopping serious dog attacks after considering a top-level report by animal control manager John Payne.

The NZ Government signalled in April that it intended introducing a raft of new laws, including the use of microchips, banning the importation of several so-called ‘dangerous’ breeds, a national database to track dangerous dogs and use of muzzles.

The changes are in response to a spate of attacks across the country, most notably the mauling of Auckland girl Carolina Anderson, whose face was badly bitten by an American Staffordshire Terrier in February.

Councils have been asked to make submissions on the laws before they are introduced - but Tauranga has moved against much of the groundswell.

It has rejected targeting breeds, increasing fines and the use of microchips and instead wants lawmakers to add new measures, including wider seizure powers for dog officers and better auditing of council animal services.

The council's decision was largely based on Mr Payne's opinion that it is a dog's behaviour not the breed which is at the heart of the issue. In effect, he backed the anti-BSL campaigners’ line of "Punish the deed, Not the Breed".

Mr Payne has championed the rights of the responsible dog owner by putting much of the blame for attacks on unregistered dogs. He estimated that 85 percent of last year's 69 mainly minor attacks on people in Tauranga were by unregistered dogs.

Suggested law changes had put too much focus on registered dogs which rarely caused problems and not enough on unregistered dogs, he said.

Parliament proposes to ban the importation of Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentino, Brazilian Fila and Japanese Tosa, and for such dogs of these breeds already living in NZ to be muzzled in public.

But Mr Payne persuaded councillors it would be a mistake for lawmakers to be breed-specific and that doing so would send out the wrong message.

Pit Bull Terriers, he said, were not implicated in any of the recent high-profile attacks and statistically the dogs most commonly involved in attacks were, in descending order GSDs, Rottweilers, Dobermanns and Labradors.

Education and strict, "no exception" enforcement of people who broke dog control regulations was the key to successful animal control policies.

The council opposed increasing the $150 instant fine to $500, the $400 fine to $1000 and the $1500 fine for more serious offences to $3000. Mr Payne said penalties were high enough already.

Instead, it wants to make it mandatory for local authorities to process infringement notices, barring exceptional circumstances.

The council also opposed implanting microchips in all dogs being registered for the first time - saying such a measure should be restricted to dogs classified as ‘dangerou’s. It was believed that this move would most likely alienate responsible dog owners.

The Council did, however, support potentially costly restrictions on the practice of many dog owners to give their animal free range on properties.

One of the main additions to the new laws being sought by Tauranga was for veterinary certificates to be produced as evidence that a court-ordered destruction of a dog had been carried out.

The council also wants to extend the power of seizure to beyond the time when the dog was at large.

The council will also press for effective auditing and monitoring of dog control services.

Government Minister Chris Carter, responsible for drafting the proposed national dog laws did not comment on Tauranga’s proposals. However, anti-BSL campaigners feel that the Council’s actions are an encouraging step in the right direction against BSL.