IN A move that almost seems to be a continuation of the recent souring of Anglo-French relations, a French Government Minister is attempting to ban Staffordshire Bull Terriers under Breed Specific Legislation. To add insult to injury, as there are no recently reported attack incidents involving this popular British breed it seems the ban has been mooted for purely bureaucratic reasons.
The new Agriculture Minister, Monsieur Sarkozy, has caused outrage by attempting to enforce France’s ill-conceived BSL regulations against Staffords. It is understood that in recent months the French Kennel Club had asked the French Government to amend their Dangerous Dog Act to remove the words "Staffordshire Terrier" since a ministerial predecessor of M. Sarkozy had confirmed in 2001 that this did NOT mean the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Despite his pronouncement, the name was still causing confusion.
M. Sarkozy appears to have spoken to the Police service in France and learned that they are having difficulty distinguishing Staffords from controlled breeds such as American Pit Bull Terriers and AmStaffs. Rather than realising this demonstrates the folly of Breed Specific Legislation, M. Sarkozy has taken the rather extreme view of choosing to ban Staffords simply to make life easier for the French police. There is no new evidence been produced to suggest that Staffords are now a danger, merely an inconvenience.
Agriculture Ministry Civil Servant Madame Martine Balland has been given the role of preparing a report on the matter for the Minister within the next week. Pierre-Louis Petit, Secretary of the French SBT Club and top SBT breeder Wolf Bergerhausen have asked for support from all major animal British organisations such as the KC, BVA, Dogs Trust, RSPCA, Metropolitan Police and individual Stafford owners to lobby Mme Balland to save the Stafford and have the breeds’ name removed from the legislation.
The Kennel Club were quick to rally to the cause, and External Affairs Officer Phil Buckley wrote a detailed letter to Mme Balland explaining how BSL did not work and how Staffords were so often wrongly accused of being ‘dangerous’ dogs. Dave Levy, Breed Liaison Officer for SBTs to the KC also wrote in strong term condemning Minister Sarkozy’s plan.
On Monday of this week, Mme Balland e-mailed Mr Levy to ask him to ‘call the dogs off’, as she had been inundated with thousands of e-mails from Stafford owners and anti-BSL campaigners the UK and around the world. She declared that she would be raising the matter with M Sarkozy as a matter of urgency and would advise Mr Levy of the outcome as soon as possible.
It is hoped that M Sarkozy will not take the easy option merely for the convenience of paperwork and police, but will instead remove the Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s name form the legislation and, in so doing, restore some much needed entente cordiale between two great dog-loving nations.
Letter from The Kennel Club to Mme Balland:
Subject: PLEASE DO NOT OUTLAW THE STAFFORDSHIRE BULL TERRIER
Dear Madame Balland.
It has been brought to the UK Kennel Club's attention that the new Agriculture Minister, Monsieur Sarkozy, is considering adding the Staffordshire Bull Terrier to the French 'Dangerous Dog' Legislation. This would be a mistake.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is the fifth most popular breed in the UK and is referred to as the 'nanny dog' for being particularly good with children.
There has been a Staffordshire Bull Terrier Agility display at Crufts and many of the breed visit schools, hospitals and care homes as registered 'Pets As Therapy' dogs. The genetic link between the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and Pit Bull Terrier or American Staffordshire Terrier is very vague, as the Pit Bull Terrier is a mixture of various breeds and this type of dog was specifically developed in America. When the despicable practice of dog fighting was outlawed in the UK in the 1800s, bull terrier breeds were developed for showing and companionship, with a strong onus placed on an even temperament and are considered to be ideal family pets in the UK.
The UK has it's own 'dangerous dog' legislation in the form of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991.The Kennel Club is the Secretariat for the Dog Legislation Advisory Group (DLAG) and members include the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals(RSPCA), Dogs Trust, British Veterinary Association and the Blue Cross. The Dangerous Dogs Act Study Group has evolved from the DLAG and specific members of this group are the Kennel Club, RSPCA, Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs Home, the National Dog Wardens Association and the Metropolitan Police Service. The Group meets regularly to discuss the inadequacies of the DDA, with a view to then making representations to Government and suggesting ways that the current Act could be amended or even rewritten.
All organisations agree that the DDA is currently unworkable, as breed specific legislation is not the solution. Furthermore, all agree that a large percentage of dog biting incidents are due to the irresponsible actions of owners, who have either not taken the time and trouble to train their dog correctly, or have indeed trained them to become aggressive. The slogan 'Deal with the deed, not breed' has been adopted by the Group, as clearly it is not fair to proscribe against an entire breed, for the actions of individual dogs.
Evidence from all over the world demonstrates the failure of Breed Specific Legislation to significantly affect any possible threat to the public and in contrast actually deflects both the public and enforcement agencies away from the right and proper measures needed to identify and restrict the activities of a few criminal or careless owners.
The Dog Legislation Advisory Group will continue to lobby Government to place stronger restrictions on owners should they allow their dogs to bite but we do not see breed specific legislation as the solution. Man's best friend learns from us, therefore it is up to us, as dog owners, to be fully responsible for our dogs individual actions.
We urge Monsieur Sarkozy not to add the Staffordshire Bull Terrier to the 'dangerous dog' list and to consider the evidence demonstrated by the continuing popularity of the breed in the United Kingdom and throughout the world as to their trustworthy and safe nature when properly owned and controlled by law-abiding citizens. Further, we would respectfully request that Monsieur Sarkozy considers the genuine facts and evidence before effectively phasing out this wonderful breed and thus distressing thousands of family pets and their owners in France.
If you would like to discuss this issue further please do not hesitate to contact the Kennel Club. If you require further information on dangerous dog legislation you may also wish to go to www.dominodogs.org.
External Affairs Manager
The Kennel Club
020 7518 1020
Letter from Dave Levy to Mme Balland:
Subject: Dangerous Dogs in France
Dear Madame Balland
I have been advised by my friends in France that the new Minister, M. Sarkozy is considering extending the list of breeds subject to special regulations in France. In particular, that he is planning to include the Staffordshire Bull Terrier amongst the listed breeds. Having communicated with the Ministry in 2001, I cannot understand why the Minister should now be considering any changes to add further breeds to the list.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. It is now the 5th most popular registered breed at the Kennel Club in London and recently topped a poll carried out by a major UK animal charity to be voted the most popular pet breed too. A study by Southampton University in 1986 identified the Staffordshire Bull Terrier amongst the top 10 breeds specifically suited to living with young children.
Apart from Germany and Toronto in Canada, I am unaware of any other area where the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has been subjected to any restrictions and in both of these cases, the relevant authorities have admitted that there is zero evidence that the breed is any threat to the public.
Estimates vary but there are currently thought to be at least 250,000 Staffordshire Bull Terriers in the UK and although there are bound to be some incidents of misbehaviour, the breed is considered not to be a threat to the public by the Government, RSPCA, British Veterinary Association, police or any other major animal organisation. Last year I was invited to lecture to the Metropolitan Police Dog Handler College so as to enable their officers to better understand the history and background of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
Many well known Britons own or have owned Staffordshire Bull Terriers including several current and former cabinet ministers, barristers, police officers and sportsmen. This is hardly the characteristic of a dangerous dog and it seems quite absurd that the Minister should now – with no new evidence before him – suddenly decide to add our breed to the list of dangerous dogs in France.
It is in fact, completely against all the evidence produced across the World showing that "breed" is only a very minor factor in dog aggression anyway. The whole concept of breed specific legislation is actually counter-productive in the both the UK and France and this is epitomised by the number of cases where BSL has been overturned in the USA once it has proven to be ineffective.
I urge you to advise against the Minister’s plan. It is not just and it is not founded on any evidence pointing to a threat to the French public from Staffordshire Bull Terriers. It will certainly do nothing to improve Anglo-French relations but will remove the great joy of Staffords from many law-abiding French citizens.
David B Levy
(Kennel Club Breed Liaison Officer for Staffordshire Bull Terriers)