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No let up in New Zealand BSL media onslaught


THE MEDIA hysteria about ‘dangerous dogs’ in New Zealand shows no signs of abating as newspapers, TV and radio programmes demand the introduction of draconian breed specific legislation which, they claim, will prevent attacks by ‘dangerous’ breeds.

Anti-BSL campaigners are facing an uphill struggle to sewing media and public opinion away from BSL and onto more sensible dog control laws, which ‘punish the deed, not the breed’.

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 seven year-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. 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.

Reluctant

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’.

Anti-BSL campaigner Marion Harding of the New Zealand Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club told OUR DOGS earlier this week: "The media hasn't let up here. There has been another reported attack on a man in the north of NZ. At first it was reported as a Pit Bull and some papers have called the dog a Pitbull/Staffordshire terrier cross. It is amazing how quickly this term Staffordshire terrier has caught on. We used only to hear of Pitbull attacks. I think it is due to that dreadful term ‘Staffie’ when referring to anything from a SBT to a crossbred Staffie x whatever.

"Pitbulls became a dirty word through the 1990s here and more particularly during the last attempt to ban them in 1999, a large number of them are now registered as Staffie crosses.

That is an interesting story in itself. So what is a Pitbull these days? The ones we see out on the streets and are told are Pitbulls can look like anything from a Labrador, Mastiff, Boxer, Great Dane, American Bulldog, Staffordshire Bull Terrier crossed with any of those or other breeds."

Marion continues, explaining how she has been trying to sway political opinion against BSL, drawing on the experiences of the UK and Germany in this regard.

"I met with two politicians on Monday at different times. One was a Labour MP and the other a National one. Neither own dogs. One was well up on the play and had obviously kept himself well informed. The other wasn't even aware of the existence of the New Zealand Kennel Club or what it does. All he knew was that ‘Pitbulls were dangerous and bit people’ and he had seen the photos of Carolina Anderson which her father had taken to Parliament.

He said ‘that stays with you and is hard to shake’. Both were attentive and friendly and took away a good deal of useful material. Whether they ever look at it is another thing. And even if they do, do they try and influence the right people?

Support

"The sad thing here is that many NZKC members do not have a clue why it might be a bad thing to ban any breed (as long as it isn't theirs). I asked one member if he had he followed the news that came from UK and Germany more recently regarding the Dangerous Dogs laws and so on. No, he had no idea. He holds quite important positions on committees, he has been around for enough years to have known. I couldn't believe it.

"But the fight goes on, and we need all the support we can get from dog owners around the world to explain that BSL simply doesn’t work elsewhere and won’t work in New Zealand."