By Nick Mays
THE GOVERNMENT of Victoria, Australia has announced its intention to introduce Breed Specific Legislation to outlaw so-called ‘dangerous dogs’ such as American Pit Bull Terriers, mainly by requiring them to be neutered.
Agriculture Minister Bob Cameron announced the move late last month, saying that pit bulls "are overly aggressive and pose an unacceptable risk to people and other animals."
The announcement follows more than 50 dog attacks reported to local councils in the last year, allegedly involving American pit bull terriers or pit bull ‘type’ dogs. "Pit bulls and other restricted breeds were banned from importation in the late '90s to limit their numbers. We now want to actively reduce their numbers," Mr Cameron said.
However, current owners of pit bulls would be able to keep their pets provided the dogs were neutered he said.
The announcement was immediately welcomed by the Australian RSPCA who have campaigned or the introduction of BSL in Australia for several years but slammed by anti-BSL campaigners who said that such a ban would achieve nothing, as similar bans have failed in other countries.
Australian RSPCA national president Hugh Wirth said he fully supported the Government's announcement but said the RSPCA believed one final step was needed to stamp the dogs out completely.
"The thing that has to be done – the final nail of the coffin – is to ban the trade of American Pit Bull Terriers," Dr Wirth said. "In other words you can't buy one because it is illegal."
The Victorian Government seem to be slavishly following the tired old line of breed bans as laid down in the UK’s own Dangerous Dogs Act, introduced by John Major’s Government in 1991, with other targeted breeds including the Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasilliero and Dogo Argentino although, as with the situation in the UK when there was only one Tosa known to be in the country, only American Pit Bull Terriers are known to exist in Victoria.
The proposed legislation will also require the "desexing of any dog declared dangerous" by local councils.
The Australian RSPCA believes there are about 5,000 American pit bull terriers in the country and Dr Wirth said they became "raging beasts" when they felt threatened. Unfortunately, they seem not to have learned the lessons of their British counterparts who advocated BSL in 1991 and even allowed their Inspectors to appear for the prosecution in DDA Identification cases in court.
This led to the RSPCA coming under fire from dog owners and losing a great deal of money in donations, so that the charity withdrew its Inspectors from DDA prosecutions in 1993. Nowadays the British RSPCA maintains a strong anti-BSL stance.
Dr Wirth parroted the anti-Pit Bull line espoused by all supporters of BSL, but appeared not to offer one shred of scientific evidence to back his claims, by saying: "The problem is these dogs are bred solely to fight, so they have a very low threshold of tolerance of other dogs and if they feel as though they're threatened in any way, this genetic conditioning kicks in and they become a raging beast. They'll attack anything they think is a threat to themselves, whether it's a human or whether it's another dog and they won't stop attacking until that alleged threat to their safety disappears."
"Irresponsible owners and people who just want a dog to be man-aggressive, they're the problem that create bad dogs," said American Pit Bull Terrier Club secretary, Bonnie Norton. Ms Norton said she was outraged about the focus on pit bull terriers and if the government was serious about dog attacks it would assess people to see whether they would be suitable owners then issue licences to own all types of dogs.
American Pit Bull Terrier Club of Australia spokesman Colin Muir added his views to those of was "a disgrace" the government had made the announcement without consulting the main stakeholders.
"Given that they are elected on the basis of an open, honest and accountable government, you would think they would consult with others," Mr Muir said.
Mr Muir added that the Government's data did not support the proposal. "In Victoria, one per cent of all dog attacks have been attributed to the pit bull terrier. "They should rethink this proposal, based on the data shown. It's a bit like saying they are banning a particular brand of car in a bid to reduce the road toll."
Dr Wirth of the RSPCA hit back saying there was one final step needed to stamp the dogs out completely. He said he believed the government would be ready to take this step in a couple of years, but the Government’s announcement was important in making American pit bull terriers socially unacceptable.
Mr Muir criticised the RSPCA, saying its charter was to protect animals, not to back a move that would wipe out a species in Australia.
"The RSPCA is generating a bit of free advertising on the back of this issue," Mr Muir declared.
Proposed changes to the Domestic (Feral and Nuisance) Animals Act 1994 will also include doubling the penalty to $1,048 for failing to provide a restricted breed dog declaration or providing false information on a restricted breed dog declaration.
The laws will be introduced to the Victorian parliament in the current session. However, anti-BSL campaigners in Australia and around the world are gearing up to fight the issue all the way and are already canvassing opposition MPs, as well as Government ministers to get their point across.