RSPCA Summer Conference 2008 part 2
The challenges of managing dogs within our communities
Perhaps the biggest gathering of multiple agencies and individuals concerned with dog welfare and control issues assembled in London recently for an RSPCA conference staged at the historic meeting hall at 1 Great George Street, literally in the shadow of Parliament.
The gathering saw some odd bedfellows indeed, but was, in most attendees’ opinions, a chance to put aside old enmities (at least temporarily) and to look beyond ideological aims and beliefs, in order to concentrate, discuss and agree on issues relating to managing – and ownership –
of dogs within communities.
The first part of the conference was covered in OUR DOGS issue dated June 13th,
and we now present the second part…
Certainly media reporting of dog attacks forms opinions amongst the public, and emotive headlines such as depicted in an issue of the magazine Sports Illustration with a snarling Pit Bull on the cover with the headline ‘Beware Of This Dog’ were a case in point.
For a balanced view of the whole ‘dangerous dogs’ issue, he recommended what was widely regarded as the definitive work on dangerous dogs; The Pitbull Placebo by Karen Delice. In the book, Delice dispels many myths. Historically, there have always been breeds which are considered ‘dangerous’ even if they are not. The GSD, Rottweiler and Dobermann held this dubious honour a few years ago. A century ago it was – almost unbelievably - the Newfoundland and the Bloodhound.
Not only do the targets change, but the media often gets dog attacks wrong and even ‘invents’; new breeds. A ‘Golden Terrier and ‘Alaskan Collie’ in one report turned out to be a Golden Retriever and Australian Sheepdog! Since 2002 at least seven deaths incorrectly attributed to dog attacks by the US media.
Mr Goldfarb went on to explain how dog law enforcement worked in the US. Dog laws operate in the US mainly at a local level. Interestingly, there were no federal government laws; State governments make general laws but specific dog-related laws are enacted at town or county level. HSUS has drawn up what it considers to be model legislation for dog control and advises various authorities on its use; the key point is that the legislation is NOT breed specific.
Breed Bans are a hot topic in US, but despite the proliferation of BSL in various states and counties, we are not seeing great results. Mr Goldfarb drew attention to Denver’s infamous long-standing Breed Ban and how the city is claiming success. ‘Pit Bull bites are down but they are not reporting general dog bite figures,’ he pointed out. ‘Over in Multnomeh County (Portland, Oregon) they operate a 5-tiered penalty system. There are increasing restrictions on the dog as it goes up the tiers. Recidivism has dropped 7% since implementation.’
There were some worrying developments however; The State of Virginia has set up an online Dangerous Dogs Registry allowing people to know who is a ‘dangerous dog’ owner in their community (Similar to Megan’s Law regarding sex offenders). This has led to concerns that dogs may be targeted by people seeing them on the list. Mr Goldfarb commented dryly: ‘It’s a very new system, we need to observe how it operates.’
Next up were some interesting statistics and facts. 33 dog bite related fatalities were recorded in the US in 2007, whilst 45 people were killed by lightening.
Again, Mr Goldfarb recommended reading another ‘bible’ by Karen Delise, Fatal Dog Attacks which three elements were involved in 90% of fatal dog bites; 1 Unsterilised dogs (mainly male), 2 Not companion animals; 3 Improperly maintained.
Mr Goldfarb declared: ‘No Pit Bull who is sterilised, well cared for and kept as a pet has ever killed in the US.’
Mr Goldfarb concluded by saying that HSUS had some very positive programmes to help better the image of Pit Bulls, such as ‘For Pits Sake’, with Pit Bulls as Breed Ambassadors, showing their positive side as pets ands working dogs, including their use as Search and Rescue Dogs. (http://www.forpitssake.org/ )
After a short question and answer session, the first of a series of running ‘auto votes’ were taken from the audience using electronic voting pads. The question put by the Chairman was: Does Breed Specific Legislation Address The Problem Of Dangerous Dogs?’
The results were unequivocal: 12% said Yes, 88% said No.
• See next week’s issue of Our Dogs for the third and final part of this report