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Laying down the law
- Some observations on canine legislation
and the dog owners’ right (continued from last week)

PLANNING AND THE DOG OWNER

Talking of civil liberties again. There’s been an unsettling development recently, in various local authorities. OUR DOGS have reported one particular recent case this year. A dog owner has 14 dogs. They are all well cared for, have good kennels that are situated on his own land.

They’ve never caused any nuisance to the neighbours. But a Local Authority Planning Officer tells the owner – quite out of the blue – that he must apply for Planning permission for "Change Of Use". The dog owner, quite reasonably asks "change of use to what?" But the planning officer doesn’t know and thisis borne out in subsequent correspondence!

But it’s Catch 22, because if the dog owner doesn’t apply, he will be taken to court, fined and compelled to apply and pay for planning permission – which may in any case be refused!

Then he is in breach of whatever terms the LA seems to think he is breach of and he has to get rid of his dogs.

The bottom line to all of this is a term called "incidental" use of the property.

The dog owner in question doesn’t take this lying down, because he is, in fact a JP and thus stranger to the law, so he’s fighting his case, which he believes is a breach of the Human Rights Act.

But consider this: If the Local Authority won the legal case, then any Local Authority can then have the power to dictate what all of us do in the privacy of our own homes! Sat you keep tropical fish and have lots of tanks – when do you become an aquarium? Maybe you have a large model Railway layout in your loft – when do you become a model shop?

The case goes on and seems to be favouring the man in question, but it is a serious, very serious encroachment on our civil liberties, not just as dog owners, but also as free citizens.

Campaigners are challenging BSL in the USA under the American Constitution. We have no written constitution in the UK, but we do have the protection of the Human Rights laws- theoretically at least. Let’s continue to be aware of that. The relevant clauses are:

Article 8 says: Right to respect for private and family life 1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

Article 14 Prohibition of Discrimination The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

ANIMAL WELFARE BILL… PERHAPS

The Government is planning its much-vaunted Animal Welfare Bill for possible enactment in 2004. Now, on the face of it, this is very well intentioned. At the Bill’s heart, it’s been sold to the public as increasing protection for animals, a means of toughening up animal welfare, beefing up the Protection of Animals Act 1911, even introducing tighter regulations against puppy farming. It will raise the age at which children can buy pets, it will compel pet shops to provide information on the care of animals they sell, it seeks to ensure that animal charities are on the level by being licensed and thus doing the best for the animals in their care.

Now, none of us can, hand on heart, object to that, surely?

But look deeper. What may have been, initially, designed with good intentions to help animals has been sullied by vested interests, by petty-mindedness and interference and, worse than that, a total lack of understanding of the issues and implications involved.

If the Government regulates all the animal rescues and charities this will put many smaller, independent and specialist charities out of business. Don’t forget, many of them actually deal with the overspill from the larger charities, such as RSPCA, Dogs Trust and CP. And what of Breed Rescue, so very often overlooked by the large charities?

Then there’s the Right of Entry. The proposed Bill includes the creation of a new offence of 'Likely to cause unnecessary suffering' and increasing the powers available to the police when investigating allegations of cruelty. Current legislation requires evidence that an animal has suffered before an offence is committed. There’s still a worrying grey area that police or animal welfare agencies can enter a person’s premises if suffering is believed Likely to take place. So it becomes a worrying ‘sus law’. If somebody doesn’t like you, then maybe they can ‘finger you’ to the authorities by saying you are cruel to your dog. Result – your door gets kicked down, your dog gets taken away and you are prosecuted. A bit like the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, in fact.

FIREWORKS ALL (YEAR) ROUND

Fireworks have become a real menace to humans and animals alike. This year Bill Tynan’s Firework Bill – was backed by the Government and has now passed into law for 2004.

Happily, this Bill has almost got it right – because of campaigners, because people were fed up with fireworks terrorising their pets. Charities and campaigners spoke with a pretty united voice on this issue and the Government – and all credit to them – did respond and gave Bill Tynan the support he needed to see the Bill enacted. It may not be perfect, it may put a lot of the onus onto the retailer to police the sale of fireworks, but it’s far, far better than having Beirut in your street for a good three months of the year. At least the legislation is there and gives the appropriate Minister the power to enforce stiffer controls for fireworks I don’t believe in an outright ban on fireworks for the same reason that I don’t agree with BSL, but I also don’t believe in the thoughtless, yobbish elements in society making our lives, and our pets’ lives a misery!

This unity was the same unity as that which challenges to BSL in some areas around the world where it was headed off. Dog owners speak with a United Voice. The KC and DLAG are speaking out against BSL and other issues. We as individuals can speak out. And gradually, "They" are listening!

NO GUIDANCE

This year has seen plenty of attempted guide dog bans. There was the blind cricket team that booked room in a hotel. The hotel accepted the booking but then refused to allow the team’s guide dogs in. Then there was the young woman booked on a trip to Lourdes, only to find that British Airways refused to allow her Guide Dog to fly in the cabin with her. Or what about the blind equestrian rider who was not allowed to take her guide dog to the Paralympics.

All of these bans have been challenged and all have had positive outcomes. The cricket team were awarded compensation against the hotel. BA has changed their policy towards guide dogs (and Air France happily conveyed the lady and her dog to Lourdes), whilst the case of the blind equestrian rider is ongoing. All this came about because the dogs’ owners refused to be pushed round!

ACTION AND RESPONSIBILITIES

Concerted action can have an effect. why should we put up with discrimination and abuse? Admittedly, it seems that every man and his partner claim for discrimination nowadays…I often say that nowadays "Every bugger knows their rights, but very few know their responsibilities." But we do know our responsibilities, because we are responsible dog owners!

Think of dog bans in local parks because some thoughtless owners don’t pick up, and the media fuelled lies about Toxocara canis? My approach to that is, "Well, sorry guv, I always pick up after my dogs, my dogs are wormed, my dogs are kept under control, I’m a responsible dog owner. You’re not penalising me!"

Some years ago, a national newspaper published lots of falsehoods about he dangers of Toxocara – and then refused to print a rebuttal letter from the late Lesley Scott-Ordish of PRO-Dogs. Lesley contacted the Press Complaints Commission, who ordered that the newspaper was compelled under Section 2 of PCC Guidelines to print her Right of Reply.

Things like this still happens now and again about dog fouling, but we, as dog owners, have to stamp on it! (But carefully)!

In 1998, the Camping and Caravanning Club arbitrarily banned dogs from all sites, because a few members’ dogs fouled and the members did not clean up after them. There was a long series of articles in OUR DOGS, coupled with concerted pressure from PRO-Dogs – whom the Camping and Caravanning Club tried to belittle and not recognise. But then the dog owning members of the Club threatened to vote with their feet – or in this case wheels – and the ban was lifted.

FOOTBALL CRAZY

In 2002, during the World Cup, there was a TV advertisement for a popular beefburger that featured a "dangerous" Bull Terrier attacking a famous footballer (presumably for his beefburger or maybe even for being stupid enough to eat one). Dog owners made complaints and the advertisement was swiftly taken off air.

Still with football, earlier this year, a Footie website ran a so-called fun feature about 10 things to do between footie seasons. One item suggested:

"Buy a dog. The lack of quality footballing entertainment during those barren summer months can seem like purgatory. However, seeking solace in a furry friend will more than make up for it. Genteel walks in the park, stick-throwing and clearing up sick will never have been so much fun.

"And once the season starts again, you can always hand it back to the RSPCA or simply throw it in a river. Seriously, everyone knows that a dog isn’t just for Christmas, but should at least last until the start of next season".

The UKPets website aired the story, OUR DOGS reported it and contacted the site owners, who were unware of the content of the article! Thousands of e-mail and telephone complaints were made to website owners and the item was withdrawn within hours. A result!

It’s not that dog owners shouldn’t have a sense of humour – in fact, I’d say that sometimes, being a dog owner myself, that a sense of humour is essential – but unfunny yobbish material such as this should be challenged and stopped. And because of concerted, united action by dog lovers, in this case, it was stopped!

CULTURAL CANINES

The fact is, dogs are useful as well as great companions. They’ve been useful to us ever since Cro-Magnon Man first entered into a pact with the wolf. Arguably, having dogs on our side helped us win the evolutionary race against the Neanderthals with their more powerful sense of smell.

What about those noble Search And Rescue dogs who tirelessly searched for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Centre attacks? Assistance dogs? PAT dogs? Research shows time and time again that pets are good for your health, reduce stress levels, give exercise, help increase mental agility help recuperation from illnesses including heart attacks. Children with pets are shown to be more intelligent and compassionate than those without. Pets break down barriers – they are a talking point. Dogs, being the most interactive and symbiotic are, therefore, perhaps the most important. It’s not just love, it’s not just a partnership, dogs are a part of US.

We hear a lot nowadays about multi-culturalism, the need to respect for other peoples’ cultures. And I’m all for that! A distrust of different cultures and lack of understanding of those cultures leads to suspicion and division within our society - and worse. Now, I argue that dogs are very much a part of our Anglo-Celtic culture and, as such, should be cherished and respected. That is, respected not just by people of other cultures who may themselves fear dogs –and its our job as responsible dog owners to show them that dogs are good - but people within our own culture who seem to despise dogs for their own pretty reasons and legislate against them. For in legislating against dogs, they legislate against US.

DOG OWNERS = VOTES

Dog Owners are a significant section of The Voting Public.

Make them listen – every one of them – The Local Councillor who won’t allow dogs on this or that patch of land, or in the local park, the caravanning organisation who won’t allow dogs on the campsite, the housing association who wants to ban dogs from flats and houses, the police officer who tuts and mutters that the stolen dog is "just a dog that’s gone missing", the Planning Officer who says that having Six Dogs is ‘deviant’ behaviour, the publican or hotelier, shop or travel company who won’t allow guide dogs to accompany their owners, the MP who wants to legislate our dogs in every which way, Government Ministers who will criminalize our dogs for chasing rabbits and squirrels, or ban them because of the way they look. Don’t be passive victims; exercise your rights as taxpayers. There’s a good six million of us – that’s a lot of votes, a lot of taxpayer’s money.

I don’t believe that all politicians are on the make, I believe – or would like to believe – that most of them want to do their best for society, at local, regional or national level, but when all’s said and done, they get well paid to do so. If they want the cushy, lucrative jig again, then they’ll listen to you. This is democracy. That’s the trouble with democracy though isn’t it? It means that sometimes the politicians don’t get the answer they like, whether it’s a vote against joining the Euro or a vote against BSL.

We’ve nothing to be ashamed of. We’re responsible citizens. Make them listen, because our voice counts! Together we will win, because we are right!

WE ARE DOG OWNERS!!!