THE NEW Zealand Government has announced that it is considering a range of options to strengthen and even enhance its existing dog control legislation in the wake of a spate of particularly nasty dog attacks on children. Amongst the measures listed for discussion by the Local Government and Environment Select Committee is breed specific legislation (BSL) against so-called dangerous breeds, which may include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The SBT has been targeted by much of the media as a dangerous breed, even though no SBTs have been involved in any of the attacks.
The chair of the select committee Jeanette Fitzsimons issued a statement in which she declared:
"In February 2003, following a spate of serious dog attacks around the country and the public concern that resulted, the Minister of Local Government announced the Government's intention to conduct an urgent review of the Dog Control Act 1996.
"The Local Government Law Reform Bill (No. 2) is seen as a potentially useful vehicle for quickly advancing the review. The bill had not progressed through Parliament since being reported to the House by the Internal Affairs and Local Government Committee in 1999.
"As it stands, the bill primarily deals with 'restricted dogs'. However, on 18 February 2003 Parliament referred the bill to the Local Government and Environment Committee, and gave the committee the power to propose any amendments relating to the care and control of dogs generally."
The committee now has the ability to look at any matter relating to the Dog Control Act. Among the matters it may consider are:· additional national requirements for dog control·
restrictions on specific breeds of dogs· additional obligations on dog owners· control of dogs generally, including the power to make bylaws requiring muzzling clarification of enforcement powers, including powers of entry and whether these powers need to be extended· increases in penalties.
In determining amendments that could be made to the Act, the Department of Internal Affairs will survey all city and district councils on their views on the Act. Information about the administration of dog control generally is also being sought. The consideration of this information by the Minister is expected to take place at the end of March, and decisions arising from it will be recommended without delay to the Local Government and Environment Committee. This will possibly take the form of a Supplementary Order Paper.
Ms Fitzsimons added: "While acknowledging public concern about the incidence of dog attacks, and the urgency of the issue, the committee wishes to have available to it as much information as possible before it calls for public submissions on the bill. For this reason, it will seek submissions as soon as the officials have completed their work and/or a Supplementary Order Paper is available that the public can comment on. At that stage the committee will advertise in the newspapers and issue a media statement calling for submissions."
However, there is evidence that the New Zealand Government appears to be backing away from its get-tough attitude to dangerous dogs after a new survey found Labradors commit more attacks on people than Rottweilers.
A report for Local Government Minister Chris Carter, based on a survey of 71 of the 74 councils around the country, has found that the number of dog attacks on humans has declined sharply in the last four years.
It also found that, despite public concern over certain breeds of dogs considered to be more dangerous, a wide variety of dogs including German Shepherds and Labradors are responsible for attacks on people.
But the report says that, despite public concern, the number of dog attacks reported to councils has fallen from 3082 in 1999-2000 to 2969 in 2000-2001 and to 2773 in 2001-2002.
Total estimated attacks fell from 5177 to 3589.
The incidence of attacks is also down, from 1.27 per 1000 people in 1999 to 0.88 in 2002. The decrease comes despite a 15,000 increase in the number of registered dogs in the same period.
The survey finds that councils consider dog owners to be the major impediment to dog safety and that the current law is adequate for both enforcement and punishment of owners. They wanted more powers to be able to seize dogs considered to be dangerous.
Children under the age of 10 were over-represented in dog attacks requiring hospital treatment, however, amounting to 39 per cent of cases. Males were attacked in 60 per cent of cases.
Mr Carter said the Cabinet would be considering "balanced, workable initiatives" to tighten dog laws and improve public safety.
David Levy the UKs Kennel Club Liaison Officer for Staffordshire Bull Terriers said that he view4ed the inclusion of BSL as an option "extremely worrying and also very contradictory".
Mr Levy has an in-depth article for distribution throughout the New Zealand media whereby he explains the problems of misidentification of breeds and the failure of BSL to make a significant effect on dog attacks anywhere else in the world.
Mr Levys article "Collateral Damage" is reproduced .
David B Levy Kennel Club Liaison Officer for Staffordshire Bull Terriers
not wishing to debate the pros and cons, rights and wrongs
of the current war, a term that surely causes concern to anyone
must be "collateral damage". In reality it means
anyone killed or injured by mistake. The phrase was perhaps
originally coined to avoid the image that killing people can
go wrong but in practice, it has taken on its own heavy meaning
Collateral damage certainly does not cover situations where children are bitten by dogs. In my humble opinion these are not "mistakes" and virtually every such incident can and should be prevented.
If latchkey dogs didnt roam streets during the day in the inner cities. If parents didnt leave their child and especially visiting children unattended with dogs (any more than they would leave several young children together without supervision). If governments would legislate to make dog fighting and other vicious so-called "sports" truly untenable by imposing severe penalties on those caught and convicted, then the number of serious dog attacks would reduce to virtually nil.
No, my point about "collateral damage" is that it is caused by lazy journalism and careless government.
There are 3 "breeds" of dog that are frequently confused, the Pitbull terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Personally I remain convinced, and indeed all the scientific evidence from all over the world demonstrates that breed is just NOT the major factor behind serious dog attacks. However, the Worlds media and more importantly perhaps, the Worlds politicians, just cannot be bothered to consider such facts.
In the UK the British Government rushed in legislation banning "the type of dog known as the Pitbull terrier". Fortunately for SBT owners, the major canine organisations were consulted and were at least able to persuade the politicians and civil servants that the registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier breed was different.
Of course the basic law remains a very blunt instrument that has caused untold suffering to many law-abiding members of the general public. The real purpose of the Dangerous Dogs Act was recorded in Hansard during the Select Committee hearings when the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the Act had served its purpose by removing the protection of Pitbull terriers from Londons drug dealers. Does this not suggest that Government has accepted a level of "collateral damage"?
In Germany, the Government rushed in legislation following the terrible death of a boy in Hamburg. No member of the local police nor of the local government was ever censured for the fact that the dogs that killed the boy were known to the authorities, were actually already under a muzzling order and that the owner, a known dog-fighter, was blatantly ignoring the order.
How many dogs have died because of the police failure to implement the existing laws? Once again, Government reactions, fuelled by misinformation from the media, created a law that bans all the breeds with similar sounding names. Again this became the Pitbull terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. This, despite the fact that there was not a single recorded case of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier ever being involved in a serious biting incident in Germany. "Collateral damage"?
In France, the Governments draftsmen even managed to get the breed names wrong.
There, they introduced laws banning the Pitbull terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and "Staffordshire Terrier". This latter does not exist but to compound the error, they then issued documents and photographs of a variety of large, bully breeds and got many of them wrong. Eventually the French Government confirmed that the Staffordshire Bull Terrier is NOT considered a dangerous dog and is NOT covered by the new laws.
Is it any wonder that people get confused when trying to say what "breed" of dog was involved in an incident? The Veterinary Association in France has now published a correction as follows:
Title : Law of 6 January 1999 - mistakes still being made
In the area devoted to dogs at the Agricultural exhibition, behind the central canine society stand, there was a poster showing the dogs listed in the decree of 27 April 1999 and covered by the measures in the law of 6 January that year. And it is worrying to note that four years after it appeared, communications about the law still include the same mistakes: mention of a non-existent breed, the Staffordshire Terrier; inclusion of a photo of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier (which is not covered by the law) appearing under the description "American Staffordshire Terrier" (the correct photo being the one at top left under the name Staffordshire Terrier). The existence of such documents which are supposed to contain accurate information but still lead to errors of interpretation is all the more reprehensible since it covers the implementation of this law.
How much "collateral damage" will be caused by these types of error? How many dogs will die and how many owners be traumatised by losing their pet.
Finally we come to New Zealand. Some excuse could be made for Germany and France. They are dealing with strange foreign words and perhaps not quite understanding the difference between such closely appearing names. How easily could we English speaking nations confuse Epagneul de Pont-Audemer, Epagneul Fougeres, Epagneul Francais and Epagneul Picard? How much easier to just lump them together as "Epagneul".
In New Zealand however, we have native English speakers yet still the newspapers are content to mix and match the names of dog breeds as the fancy takes them. Currently, the New Zealand Government is reported to have received submissions from all the major local councils which, they claim, show that "Staffordshire Bull Terriers" are the top of the biting list. Strangely, neither the American Stafford nor Pitbull feature on the list at all! Yet the one list I have seen in detail, Auckland City Council, the SBT does appear (though far from the top of the list) for being involved in incidents with other dogs but does not appear at all for incidents where humans are involved. Are we to believe that Auckland Staffordshire Bull terriers behave significantly better than those in other parts of New Zealand?
More specifically, in the 22nd March issue of the influential International Newspaper, reporter Colin Espiner describes the dog that attacked Carolina Anderson (the main figurehead for the current anti-dog campaign) as a "Staffordshire Bull Terrier". In fact, the dog has officially been identified by the authorities as a crossbreed. The Auckland City Council authorities tell us that there was NO SBT or American Staffordshire Terrier in the cross. Is this merely a case of Mr Espiner not letting the facts get in the way of a good story?
The "collateral damage" here is obvious. Misreporting will lead to public outcry and politicians, fearing a backlash will strike out with the only weapon they seem to understand a breed ban on "Staffordshire Bull Terriers".
And who will be the losers? Obviously the Stafford owners will lose their pets but more importantly perhaps, the New Zealand public will settle down in the safety of knowing that no more such attacks can occur. EXCEPT THEY WILL.
People will continue, in their ignorance, to create situations where all sorts of dogs react "naturally" to their circumstances. Dog-fighters will go even further underground, safe in the knowledge that the worst that will happen to them is to lose the odd dog and pay a small fine. Life will go on as before except for the hundreds of Staffordshire Bull Terriers but then they are just "collateral damage"!