698 DOGGED BY FAILURE by David Hancock

by   David Hancock

A million pit bull terriers are euthanised in the United States every year. My local paper recently reported a case in which a man was found to have 38 powerful dogs, American Bulldogs and Canary Dogs, in cages in the small back garden of his semi-detached house; he was unemployed. This case only made news because of the noise from their barking not from the direct cruelty involved in keeping 38 substantial dogs in such conditions – the cost of feeding them, and their exercise needs quite apart. The connection between these two widely-separated items? The American dogs and the 38 British dogs are punished in this casual callous manner because humans choose to let it happen; it need not. The law-makers usually resort to punishing the dogs, sometimes claiming such dogs are used as ‘weapons’. But weapons in other forms, guns and knives for example, are not as easy to ‘punish’, so they are controlled, with strict rules about their custody. No one gives much thought to the custodianship of ‘weapon-dogs’, it’s easier to euthanise them, as the American example shows.

 There is talk of compulsory microchipping every dog to prove ownership. There are reports of ‘dog-ASBOs’ to control the menace of formidable dogs on our streets. Yet anyone can breed a litter or keep 38 strapping dogs in their small back garden. The needs of the dogs are so rarely heeded. The dogs’ homes are awash with unwanted dogs, the rescue societies are overwhelmed, both mainly with muscular dogs, often of the Staffie type. But the inalienable right of every citizen, no matter what his circumstances, to breed a litter of pups is seen to be sacrosanct. Human rights? Animal rights? This is not the time for a sermon, the canine cost is just too high.

 In far too many countries of the world, legislators are struggling to find legal means of controlling dangerous dogs. The menace of powerful savage dogs to innocent people, especially children, has to be countered. But perhaps because a demented dog can inflict such appalling injuries, the reaction to this menace has been extreme, irrational, too hasty, over-reactive and, as far as justice is concerned, unfair.

 In Britain, under the Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991, on the advice of the Kennel Club, despite their knowing nothing of them, a number of breeds were named as posing a threat: the pit bull terrier, the Japanese Tosa and the South American breeds of Fila Brasiliera (the national dog of Brazil, and the most temperament-tested breed on earth) and Dogo Argentino (the national dog of Argentina). In Ireland the following breeds are listed as dangerous: the pit bull terrier, the Bulldog, the Bullmastiff, the Dobermann, the Bull Terrier, the German Shepherd Dog, the Japanese Akita and Tosa, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Rottweiler and the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In North America, most of these breeds have been banned or restricted in various places but so too have the Labrador and Golden Retrievers, the English Springer Spaniel, the Boxer, the Great Dane, the Airedale, the Chow Chow,  even the Pug.

 In North Bergen, New Jersey, all dogs with short hair, a muscular build, weighing between 20 and 125 pounds and of any colour are unlawful. In Bavaria recently the Rhodesian Ridgeback has been banned as a breed after one incident involving one dog. Your breed could be the next to be proscribed, whatever your dog has done. Dog lovers in Britain are simply failing to appreciate the hit-or-miss, all-embracing capability of their own law – which both the police and the RSPCA now admit.

 One RSPCA chief inspector in Britain has been involved in the prosecution of 64 crossbred dogs, all pets, not one of them accused of unwarranted aggression but all of them alleged to be "of pit bull type", whatever that is. The RSPCA seemed to be defying its own name in going out of its way to activate this ill-considered legislation yet are now involved in revising it! But what on earth is "pit bull type"? To avoid banning, dogs bred as pit bull terriers are now being advertised as Pompey bull terriers, Irish bull terriers, old English bull-and-terriers and Staffordshire bull-and-terriers. As a result many city councils in America have banned all cross-bred dogs from a bulldog-terrier mixture. What a commentary on breed-related legislation as a selective deterrent!

 There is however in America a breed called the American Staffordshire Terrier (i.e. without 'bull' in the name) that comes from the very same stock as the pit bull terrier. This is a breed recognised by the American Kennel Club as pedigree and therefore has a breed standard. So, as the American Staffordshire and pit bull terriers are genetically identical, the breed standard for the former and accepted by the AKC is a means of identification for the latter, if breeds are to have significance in law. But no police force or government agency will do so.

 Pit bull terriers originated in America in the early 1800s from Irish, English, Spanish and Sicilian pit dogs imported to compete in organised dog-fighting. They tend to be 50lbs in weight, short-haired, strongly-muzzled, with the body of a Bull Terrier and the coat colours of the Bulldog, mainly brindle, red or tan. The head lacks the ruggerball shape of the pedigree Bull Terrier and the sharper muzzle of the pedigree Staffordshire Bull Terrier. In one decade in the USA, pit bull terriers  caused 20 of the 28 human deaths due to dog bites. But, nearly all these dogs were owned by people wishing to project a "macho" image and misusing their dogs to express their own hostility to society. They could (and one day soon probably will) have chosen another breed. As a result of the isolated antisocial moronic behaviour of a relatively tiny group of misfits, thousands of perfectly well-behaved dogs have lost their lives.

 No rational person wants to possess a dangerous dog but laws passed to combat such a menace must be fair...and workable. Most dog bites on humans are not inflicted by the Bull Terrier types but by crossbred collies, German Shepherd Dogs, Jack Russell terriers and nondescript mongrels. If, like the DDA of 1991, you are banning breeds bred for fighting then, logically, you must ban the Staffordshire Bull Terrier and the Chinese fighting dog, the Shar Pei. So this law when applied defies its own wording. There is no evidence at all in the millennia of the man-dog association of one or two demented dogs typifying a breed. There is overwhelming evidence to associate individual dog's behaviour with their owners or breeders.

 In the United Kingdom, there are around six million dogs - with less than half being registered as pedigree. There are therefore some three million dogs in this country which cannot be identified as belonging to a breed. They can only be identified by their association with a deed through eye-witness accounts, photographic evidence, etc. Why should not this system apply similarly to dogs from known breeding? A thousand perfectly well-behaved pit bull terriers have already been destroyed because of the wording of the Dangerous Dogs Act. In other circumstances such activity would be called racial discrimination or even ethnic cleansing. The evidence in these cases is being provided by RSPCA officials and vets, professionals whose purpose in life is to prevent suffering in dogs - not in humans.

 But the DDA is breed related not breed restricted; where is it going to end? Many pedigree breeds have a dog-fighting past: Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Chow Chows, Shar Peis, Japanese Tosas, Akitas, Irish Terriers, Bedlingtons and Kerry Blues. Ban one of these and the dog-fighting fraternity will produce a dog that looks unlike any of them. In Afghanistan dog fights take place using dogs like Tibetan mastiffs. In the last century in this country there were matches between "bantam terriers" in many rural areas. In Spain near Cordoba there were once organised fights between Bulldogs. In medieval Russia huge bear-hunting dogs were made to fight each other. Banning a breed will never deter those determined to organise dog fights. Such an indiscriminate measure can only bring wholly needless destruction of the innocent. It may not be a matter of whether it is going to affect your breed but when.

 It just needs one hitherto well-behaved breed to become favoured by an evil section of the community and then for abused dogs of that breed to escape and blindly attack the nearest member of the public, for a century of admirable behaviour to be forgotten and a ban imposed. Any breed can be added to those already banned under this act. There is no appeal. There is no rationale to be argued against; if the Home Office decides your breed is "dangerous" then every single member of that breed is automatically dangerous too. It is no good looking to the Kennel Club; they 'advised' the Secretary of State who drew up the act. It is no protection to have your dog registered with the KC. Dogs registered with them have already been destroyed.

 It is no good going to the veterinary profession; there is no shortage of vets ready to go to court in order to support this act, despite not being trained to identify breeds. It is no good going to the RSPCA; quite the reverse. Will you have time to lobby for your dog's life to be spared? You have time now however. There is only one humane way for dangerous dogs to be controlled and that is for dogs to be judged by their deeds not their breed. And if there is a  psychopathic strain in any breed let us not shy away from removing it before a small child is disfigured. The present act fails to provide such protection, despite its promiscuous cover. Bad laws only get changed when a determined band of likeminded people apply sustained pressure and persevere. You may not be affected by this Act at the moment. Use that benefit of time. This act is not flawed in its intention but in its application. Change "breed" to "deed" and a new concept is introduced. Do nothing and your breed's time may come! Truly dangerous dogs should die if innocent breeds are to survive.    

  But in ‘doing something’ what should that be? It’s no good lamenting that too many dogs are being destroyed when too many, far too many, are being bred. Why should anyone, however unsuited for it, be legally able to breed a litter? Forget a dog-licence, bring in a breeders’ licence for non-working dogs. Why shouldn’t every single dog, to protect it, have to be registered at birth, a one-off action, not an annual one. How to prove who owns what? Insist on every dog being identifiable, chip or tattoo. How to stop the menace of ‘weapon-dogs’? In the urban areas where they are a problem, ban them from prescribed public places or even their possession in certain defined localities. Focus on prohibiting the parading of ‘weapon dogs’. Dog-abuse is being condoned because human interests come first; it has to stop.