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BSL in Germany branded ‘fair’ in ruling

BREED SPECIFIC Legislation in Germany is fair – or at least, up to a point. This was the ruling of the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe – the highest court in the country - on Thursday 18 March, when it delivered its long-awaited ruling on the two key facets of BSL in Germany, namely the Import Ban and the Breeding Ban on four so-called ‘dangerous breeds’ of dog. Worse however, following a separate ruling, the Federal Government has called upon all German States to enact a law whereby listed ‘dangerous’ breeds should be sterilised by mandatory statute.

The initial ruling was that the Federal Government’s Import Ban on the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Stafford, Staffordshire Bull Terrier and English Bull Terrier is CORRECT.

According to the court, these breeds are considered dangerous and the safety of the (German) people comes first.

However, the second key part of the ruling, relating to the ban on breeding these and other so-called ‘dangerous’ breeds was somewhat more complex. The court ruled that it is up to each individual State Government in Germany to decide whether breeding is allowed or not.

Germany-based anti-BSL campaigner Cathie Detmar, who is herself fighting BSL laws in her home state has analysed the court ruling for OUR DOGS:

"The Import ban is legal because the protection of human life has priority over the rights of people to own certain breeds of dogs.

"The judges said: ‘it is enough' when the government only suspects that the four named breeds are dangerous to humans, because the protection of human life is more important than anything else. ‘Absolute proof’ is not needed."

However, the judges also ruled that the Government has a duty to keep an eye on this situation in case new evidence surfaces, whether in favour of the dogs or against, then rewrite this law in accordance to what has come to light. What this means in practical terms is the door is still open to allow the Government to ban further breeds, such as the GSD or Rottweiler, if it appears these breeds are also a ‘danger’ to humans, but also allows to amend the list if evidence appears to exonerate one or more of the already listed breeds. Whether they would act in the latter instance is, of course, a matter for speculation.

Detmar adds: "The breeding ban was thrown out because it was attached to the animal protection law, which has nothing to do with the safety of people. The court told each State they must decide whether to invoke a breeding ban or not. This of course hangs on whether a state has a breed list. This being so, the task will be an easy one. Such states as Lower Saxony and Thuringen do not have a breed list anymore so the people in these states have the right to breed formerly ‘listed’ dogs again. The two states of Bavaria and Sachsen-Anhalt have Category 1 and 2 lists...and those dogs listed in Category 2 can also become a breeding animal, once certain temperament tests are passed. The other 12 German states have laws in place with breed lists and in each of these states these dog owners must once again go through the court system to fight them.

"One must think, there has been a federal breed ban in place since September 2001, nearly 2 years ago and now most people in Germany are looking at a time period of 2-3 years of further legal entanglements in fighting the breeding bans. What this means to most breeders, especially those who MAY have younger animals at home, 5-6 years will have passed before they may be allowed to breed again - and of course we can all do the arithmetic. When it is all said and done, there will not be many animals for breeding left in Germany. This is exactly what the politicians said back in 2000, that in 10 years perhaps they will change their laws…by then most dogs affected by the bans will be old or dead."

Judgement

One factor the judges repeated throughout their judgment is the fact that the four breeds (American Staff, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Bull Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier) are ‘highly aggressive and dangerous’. The judges reiterated that even if there is NO scientific proof and there are no official, accurate bite statistics, it does not matter, because one (lawmaker, civil worker) must only have SUSPICION of aggression in a dog to act. It is an absolutely bizarre ruling for a court to make, but then such politicise rulings have been common in Germany in the matter of BSL.

Cathie Detmar continues: "This court decision resembled a catastrophic nuclear accident on the one hand, because the constitutional court judges weren't concerned with the lack of scientific proof that these dogs are deadly. The decision was so political in origin that it was truly disheartening. They basically took the politicians word as fact.

"What is positive for our state-based case is that we are in a different court system, the administration court. This is the same court, with the same judges, that threw out the laws in Lower Saxony (agreeing it is nothing to do with a breed). And when the appeal for that case went to Berlin (the high court) those justices also repeated it has nothing to do with a breed and that many factors are involved in determining what makes a dog aggressive.

"This court was also concerned only with the scientific proof presented and did not give any weight to 'hearsay'. These judges will be the same ones to hear our case to remove the Bull Terrier from the federal list, what has been our course of action since 2001, using over 11 scientific studies to support our claim. Now that the federal import ban trial is behind us, we are hoping the administration court will finally set a date for our case."

Sterilised by law

On the same day, the Constitutional Court decided on another matter concerning dogs – and their ruling was, if anything, far more worrying with worse long-term implications than their ruling on the Import and Breeding bans.

A Pit Bull owner from the State of Rheinland-Pfalz was ordered to sterilise their dog since he is on their breed list of ‘dangerous’ breeds. The owner took this matter to the High Court and the decision was made late last week.

The judges ruled that because the life of humans takes precedence over the rights of a dog owner, it is correct when the State Government of Rheinland-Pfalz decides that ‘dangerous’ dogs must be sterilised. This means that every American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, English Bull Terrier and American Pit Bull Terrier in this German state must be sterilised. This law came into effect as of last week.

Ruling

This is of course NOT good news, particularly as the German Federal Government, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder seized upon this ruling for their own ends and subsequently called upon every German State to unite in a Federal Breed Ban with the sterilisation option attached.

Cathie Detmar resigns herself to fighting on this new front: "All we can do is hope that (my husband) Rudi and I can prove to the courts the Bull Terrier is just as normal of a dog as any other breed of dog. We are positive, along with our lawyer, who is an expert in Federal law and one who tried the case in Lower Saxony and Berlin several years ago, successfully, that with all the proof we have we cannot fail. Also in our favour is the fact we have the same judges we are going before seem to agree it is not about a breed.

"The politicians in Berlin announced today that they will push each state to unite in a Federal Breed Ban and of course, sterilisation will now follow. If Rudi and I fail, then the 4 breeds in question will be extinct within the next 5-8 years in Germany. Then, of course, other European countries may then follow suit, as they slavishly seem to follow the German line."

Detmar adds: "Sadly, all day during the court ruling, the media replayed the child’s killing in Hamburg, from 2000, showing the Pit Bull and Am Staff being shot and the dead child’s body lying on the ground, every hour, on every television station. It’s all such a struggle - but we are not giving up. We will never give up."