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BSL by any other name
Italian laws enacted, but no breed bans

THE ITALIAN Government has introduced tough new laws targeting "potentially aggressive" breeds, but has steered clear of out-and-out breed specific bans. However, the new laws are a hotchpotch of contradictions, which have branded breeds such as Border Collies, St Bernards and Corgis as ‘dangerous’ and illegal for criminals and children to own.

As with all new canine laws, the Italian legislation followed a spate of dog attacks that gained a high media profile, prompting calls for political action. In the latest incident, a four-year-old toddler had to undergo facial surgery after a severe mauling by a dog of unspecified breed. Other dog attacks include one on an elderly woman, who had her nose bitten off, and a woman jogger, who almost lost the use of one arm.

Experts believe that the scorching heat this summer has helped to turn hungry and thirsty dogs into "a real social menace".

Last week, Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia issued a decree banning the training, breeding or drugging of dogs to increase their aggression.

Police say that the vast majority of ‘Pit Bulls’ in Italy are bred and trained for organised dog fighting. The fights, and the gambling associated with them, are controlled by criminal gangs - especially by the Neapolitan Mafia, known as the Camorra.

The cruel business involves some 15,000 animals and is believed to generate an annual turnover of 775 million euros. Fighting dogs are forced on treadmills for hours and stuffed with steroids as part of their training. Those that do not die in the fights are often covered in scars.

"These dogs are being portrayed as criminals, but in fact they are the victims of those who use them as war machines," Adolfo Sansolini, the chairman of Italy's Anti-Vivisection League, told the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Emergency

The new legislation, passed by emergency decree after a series of pit bull attacks made front-page headlines this summer, places a number of restrictions on ownership of 92 kinds of "threatening" dogs.


Predictably, the new category includes ‘the usual suspects’ such as Dobermanns, Bullmastiffs and German Shepherds, as well as ‘pit bulls’, of which there are an estimated 16,000 in Italy.

But the law also includes Newfoundlands, a breed with a reputation for mildness, as well as Corgis. Staffordshire Bull Terriers and American Staffords have been excluded form the legislation, mainly as a result of heavy campaigning by anti-BSL campaigners. This has led to other breeds not being ‘spoken up for’ and has allowed these to be classified as ‘threatening’ or ‘potentially dangerous’.

Minors, delinquents and criminals who have caused harm to people or animals, will all be barred from owning such dogs, the law states. In cases of illegal possession, it provides for the animal's seizure.

Those people who are deemed to be suitable owners will be required to keep ‘dangerous’ category dogs muzzled and on leads in public.

In addition, they will have to take out special third-party insurance - expected to cost 200 euros (about £140) a year - in the event that their pet causes anyone physical harm.

The provisions were greeted with a mixture of incredulity, cynicism and concern in Italy's media. They also came under fire from animal rights groups - even if the law's general terms met with widespread approval.

"If it wasn't a television series, Rin Tin Tin would have to be sequestered, because his owner, little Rusty, is a minor," said La Repubblica of the decree passed by Silvio Berlusconi's government.

Ciro Troiano of Italy's Anti-Vivisection League said: "There is now a risk that thousands of dogs will be abandoned as owners seek a way out of the problem."