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New Zealand: presenting the facts about BSL

ANXIOUS DOG owners in New Zealand await the recommendation of the Government Select Committee on whether to pursue breed specific dog laws, following a media outcry after Carolina Anderson was attacked by a dog, alleged to be a pit bull ‘type’. The Select Committee has been considering the various presentations made to them by many experts, most of whom have reached the same conclusion, i.e. that no particular breed of dog is inherently more dangerous than any other.

Leading campaigner Marion Harding of the New Zealand Staffordshire Bull Terrier Club recently made a formal presentation to the Committee. Her analysis, based on her own experiences and knowledge of dogs, coupled with BSL-related data from around the world makes fascinating reading and should stand as an invaluable and commonsense document all politicians around the world on why Breed Specific Legislation should never be considered:
Marion Harding writes: Hon Chris Carter has said in media statements that the proposed law changes are to protect the public from dangerous dogs. It is my opinion that none of the proposed law changes will do that.

I would like to tell you a story to illustrate this and in doing so I have agreed to protect the family and friends. So, I will call the little girl Jessie and her Mum Meg.

Earlier this year, around the time that Carolina Anderson was attacked in the Auckland park, six year old Jessie was attacked by a dog, in the backyard of a family friend. She suffered severe injuries to her face, which is now badly scarred. She has lost the nerves from one side and can now only give half a smile.

Along with her two siblings, Jessie grew up with a Staffordshire Bull Terrier and as a consequence, she has no fear of dogs whatever. In spite of the dreadful attack and the damage done, Meg says, that Jessie is a brave little girl and still loves all dogs.

The background to this story is this - A family in the town where Jessie and her family lived owned a dog. It was apparently teased dreadfully by children. One day it attacked and seriously injured a two-year old child. The local dog control notified the owners that this dog was now classified as a dangerous dog with all the requirements of the dog control law now applying.

Those are:

l the dog to be kept within a securely fenced portion of the owner's property, which is away from access to at least one door of a dwelling-place on the property,
l the dog to be muzzled in a public place,
l the dog to be neutered (or spayed),
l the dog control fee to be 150% of the level that would normally have applied,
l the owner not to dispose of the dog to any person, without written consent of the territorial authority. (refer section 32 and 33 Dog Control Act 1996)

At some stage later, the dog was given to friends of Jessie's Mum, who were NOT told of the dog's background. These friends went along to the local council, (same council), and registered this dog in their name. No questions were asked. There were no warning bells.

On the fateful day Jessie visited the family friends with her Mum Meg. Jessie went out into the back yard to play and was attacked by the dog, which was loose in the back yard. It is likely that Jessie went straight up to the dog, because of her love of dogs and her lack of fear.

The new owners of the dog had it put down immediately.

Why did we not hear about this story via newspapers, radio and TV?

Meg refused to allow any reporting. She did this to protect her daughter. She felt that Jessie had been through so much already and did not want her to suffer more. She wanted her daughter and family to mend and move on. They had all been through a terrible ordeal.

Meg also says that her friends did everything right and were responsible and caring dog owners. This was not their fault and she did not want adverse publicity for them either.

The local dog control authorities have been pushing Meg to lay charges against her friends. She has refused for the reasons already given as for the media.

There is absolutely nothing in these proposed dog control law changes that would have prevented little Jessie, (or Carolina Anderson for that matter), from being attacked.

Banning the importation of American Pit Bull Terriers, Japanese Tosas, Fila Brasilieros, Dogo Argentinas and types certainly wouldn't have. The dog that attacked Jessie was their friend's Bullmastiff.

Muzzling those dogs or breeds in public that dog control officers consider potentially dangerous, as well as the four breeds above, would NOT have helped Jessie, as she was attacked in a friend's back yard. 80% of dog attacks occur at home or at a friend's property.
Giving dog control officers power to come onto private property to seize unregistered dogs wouldn't have been applicable. This dog was registered.

New fencing requirements wouldn't have helped either.

What could have changed this scenario?

l An administration system at the local council, whereby a certified dangerous dog's situation was monitored from time to time, to ensure the owners were complying with requirements.
l Warning bells at registration time that the dog has not been re-registered with its former owners,
l Or some check done when the new owners registered it for the first time, such as questions about where the dog came from. This is mandatory in some districts and apparently not in others.
l Education of the original dog owners about responsibilities and training,
l Education of children generally about teasing dogs and the consequences,
l Education of Jessie's parents about keeping kids safe around dogs,
l Education of Jessie about approaching strange dogs and how to behave around dogs.
Jessie's family's old Staffordshire Bull Terrier died recently and is missed hugely by them all.

They now eagerly await a new puppy, which is too young to come to them yet. She is another Staffordshire Bull Terrier, as Meg believes this is one of the safest breeds to have around children.

In the meantime, Jessie, her family and their friends have all been reading Karen Peak's "Safe Kids/Safe Dogs" article, sent to the family by their new puppy's breeder. They have been practising their newly learned ways to behave around and with dogs generally.

Maybe we can begin to understand a large part of the problem by the telling of this story. Maybe Jessie's story can truly make a difference and help to protect the public.

It's not about breeds of dogs. It's not about making more and tougher laws. It’s about enforcing existing laws and making existing laws work. It’s about us all learning to respect dogs and them to respect us so that dogs are safe from irresponsible and cruel owners and so that the public and particularly our children are safe from dogs that have been made dangerous by irresponsible people.