Since the beginning of earliest civilisation, man has relied on and surrounded himself with animals, for both assistance with labour and companionship. The phrase ‘man’s best friends’ is often used to described one of the most loyal and popular of these animals, the dog. Yet, in recent years, under the continued influence of rising dog attack numbers and societal pressure, new legislation has been introduced, collectively known as ‘Breed-Specific Legislation’. Under these new laws, certain breeds of animal are restricted or deemed dangerous, simply because of stereotypes associated with temperament and aggression.
While many believe that this legislation is the most suitable response to a rapidly accelerating concern, further anaylsis into both the legal and social aspects of the issue reveal that ‘Breed-Specific Legislation’ may not be the most effective solution to the issues surrounding the ownership and domestication of restricted dog breeds. The relevant legal proceedings for this issue is directly related to the structural legislative balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the collective.
Under Australia’s current laws, our views on this matter lean more favourably towards the rights of the collective community, preferring to cater for society as a whole, rather than to a select number of individuals. Under the QLD Animal Management (Cats & Dog) Act 2008, a prohibited dog is defined as ‘A restricted dog is a dog of a breed prohibited from importation into Australia under the Customs Act 1901’, which is then further defined as the following breeds. The American Pit-Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino (The Argentine Mastiff), the Fila Brasileiro, the Japanese Tosa and the Presa Canario.
Under this Act, anyone who is found to be in possession of, or declared the owner of, a dog determined by an authorised official to be of a restricted breed, is liable to severe legal implications and as a matter of course the dog is destroyed. However, there are no laws or recommendations in place, at least none accessible to the public, to determine what legal implications should occur. Any consequences are determined by precedent and circumstance, and often require mandatory legal representation in order to be settled effectively.
This is predominately due to the provision under the Customs Act 1901, stating that it is the responsibility of the local governments to dictate the prohibition of certain breeds (or cross breeds) of dogs in their jurisdictions. These decisions are at the discretion of each local government’s law, and higher hierarchical authorities, such as the state government, have limited powers to intervene with these laws. This ambiguity means that there is no definitive response to be taken under criminal law, in the event of a breach.
The responsibility falls to the local government to conduct the judicial proceedings and execute the consequences. As such, it is impossible to fairly and equally apply the current laws, when major decisions are left to the discretion of many individual stakeholders. The current breed-specific legislation also proves a difficult task to enforce. While there are set guidelines in determining a dog’s breed based on physical characteristics, according to the Australian Veterinarian Association ‘it is not possible to precisely determine the breed of the types of dogs targeted by breed-specific legislation by appearance or by DNA analysis.
’ As such, while an animal may contain genetic traces of restricted breeds, it can often be indistinguishable from other traits. In the same manner, however, animals completely free of restricted heritage traits may be mistaken for an illegal breed and destroyed, without reason. In the recent case, CHIVERS Vs Gold Coast City Council, 2010, the inability to definitively determine the difference between an American Staffordshire terrier and an American Pit Bull terrier, led to the erroneous decision stating they were ‘one and the same breed’.
However, in September 2010, after further investigation into the matter, it was revealed that the two breeds can be distinguished and therefore, the Staffordshire terrier was not restricted under the legislation. This case study clearly highlights the ambiguity surrounding the defining of certain dog breeds, and explicitly emphasizes the inability of the legislation to make clear and accurate judging. Therefore, the current legislation cannot be considered an effective law, as it has been deemed ambiguous, unequally applied and incorrectly enforced.
However, while the owner is liable to the majority of the consequences in the event of a breach, the current breed specific legislation only places restrictions on the certain dog breeds, rather than on the owners. A study conducted in Germany in 2008 investigating the concept of inherent aggression showed that 95% of test subjects had no evidence to show that agression was a result of ingrained breed-specific characteristics. It also proved that the inherent temperament of the restricted dog breeds, was similar and in some cases identical to the unrestrcited breeds.
It then went on to summarise that the treatment and training of an animal in the early years of its life, far outways any ingrained tenacity for aggression. In the opinion of The American Kennel Club – a national canine club dedicated to furthering the study, breeding and exhibiting of dogs. “If specific breeds are banned, owners of these breeds intent on using their dogs for malicious or illegal purposes will simply change to another breed of dog and continue to jeopardize public safety.
” As such, a qualified and competent owner cannot, under the legislaiton, own a restricted dog breed, regardless of their ability to control, train and rectify any behavioural instincts or tendencies. Whereas an owner, with no recognised skill or qualification in animal care or ownership may purchase an unrestricted dog, and either through lack of care, or deliberate conditioning, train it to exhibit behaviour and attitudes that are classifed dangerous.
Upon analysis of Figure 1 (see appendix) , it can be seen that after the introduction of breed-specific legislation in 2005, while the number of attacks immediately fell approximately 40%, after less than a year the percentage of dog attacks had doubled and continued to rise over the next five years until attacks were occuring 6-7 times more frequently than before the legislation was introduced.
While these statistics do not confirm that the legislation caused the increase in attacks, it does prove that breed-specific laws have had no long term positive effect on the total number of dog attacks since being introduced. There are two prominent stakeholders within the issue of animal restrictions. The owners, who should have the right to own a dog of their choosing, regardless of breed stereotypes, providing they can care for it properly, and the civic society, who have the right to live and interact within the community, without fear of attacks from dangerous animals.
The main conflict of interest between these two stakeholders is the issue of legal balance – whether the rights of the individual are balanced with the rights of the collective community. If an animal of any kind escapes control and is loose within the community, it is no longer only an individual concern. If the animal then attacks or frightens a member of the community, it becomes a threat to the collective society as a whole and therefore the issue of dangerous animals is both an individual and collective dispute and and must be dealt with as such.
However, while it is conceded that dangerous dogs do pose a potential threat to community members, the restricted dogs highlighted in the Animal Management (Cats & Dog) Act, as explained above, have been proven by both scientific and survey evidence, to not be dangerous or aggressive by nature. As such, they should no longer be separated from other canine species based solely on the breed-specific legislation. Therefore, until such a time as they are deemed individually dangerous, restricted dogs should remain an individual’s concern. Upon closer review many minor stakeholders also come to light.
Dog breeders face limitations on the number of restricted animals they are allowed to breed, which causes a lose of income. Those specialising in the breeding and training of these restricted animals are unable to employ their qualifications to the best of their ability due to stereotypical restrictions. Also, if at anytime, the heritage of a litter is determined to contain traces, whether intentionally or unknowingly, of any of these restricted breeds, no matter how small, all animals from the lineage are seized and most often destroyed, tarnishing the good reputation of the breeders concerned.
The local councils responsible for the regulation and specific restrictions surrounding this issue are also heavily involved stakeholders. The council, while considering the effectiveness of any agenda, will be primarily looking for the solution executed with the most ease, as animal management is not a high priority in comparison to other issues. While employing the idea that ‘segregation is better than rehabilitation’ may be the easiest solution, as discussed above, it is certainly not the most effective.
Another group of stakeholders, though often overlooked, are the animal activists and veterinarians involved in these issues. They have conducted experiments and collected survey data and are in possession of scientifically provable and viable evidence, such as the information presented above, to explictly show that breed specific tendancies of animals are only one of many factors that make up an animals characteristics and behaviour. These lobby groups and experts could dedicate their time to more pressing scientific or social issues, but are instead having to fight legislation which has no basis in scientific or civic fact.
If the restrictions are revoked and breed-specific regulations are reviewed, then viable alternatives must be proposed and considered in order to effectively control what would still be a delicate situation. One possible alternative is categorizing animals based on individual character and aggression tests. It is already mandated that animals are checked by a certified veterinarian before registration and during regular points throughout the animals life, so, if introduced, these aptitiude tests could be amalgamated into this process and thereby, introduced effectively and without additional labour or due process.
Another possible alternative is to direct the responsibility onto the potential owners themselves. Regardless of whether or not a breed is considered ‘dangerous’, it falls to the owner of the dog to educate and train it in such a way that it acts in an acceptable manner. Restriction is thereby determined not by the ownership of certain dog breeds, but by the behaviour or potential behaviour of both the owner and the individual animal in question.
A legislative amendment, stating that any attack by a domesticated animal, specifically dog/s, would incur both a criminal and civil liabilty to fall upon the owner, will add a significant amount of risk to the purchase of said animal breeds. In this way, with the legislation focusing primarily on irresponsible or unqualified dog owners, the element of risk would ensure that only animal owners who are proficient in the training and keeping of dangerous dogs would consider the purchase, thereby reducing the number of dogs becoming conditioned to attack others.
“If we want to prevent all bites, there is only one sure way and that is to ban all dogs. That is of course as unrealistic as trying to prevent bites by enacting breed-specific legislation. ” (Bandow, 1996) It is the authors opinion, that this statement is the most effective summary of the current breed-specific legislation laws. As long as society continues to accept and welcome dogs as companions, there will continue to be issues regarding, what is in essence, a wild animal.
However, the studies and analysis continue to show that there is little, if any proof that the breeds currently listed as restricted have any inherent tendacies affecting aggression or behaviour, and thereby distinguishing them from other breeds. As such they have no place being banned from our society simply due to the ill-informed stereotypes, generated by breed-specific legislation. Therefore, based on the evidence and analysis at hand, the proposed alternatives would prove a far more effective solution in the effort to solve the issues surrounding the ownership and domestication of restricted dog breeds.
APPENDIX BIBLIOGRAPHY Bibliography 2008 Act No. 74. (2008). Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, 142. QLD, Australia. CHIVERS Vs Gold Coast City Council (The Supreme Court March 2010). American Kennel Club. (2011). Brisbane City Council. (2013, January 17). Dangerous, Menacing and Restricted dogs. Retrieved January 17, 2013, from Brisbane City Council: http://www. brisbane. qld. gov. au/laws-permits/laws-and-permits-for-residents/animals-and-pets/cats-dogs/dangerous-menacing-restricted-dogs/index.
htm Hall, A. (2012, August 15). Vets call to end ‘dangerous’ dog breed bans. ABC NEWS. Marinucci, E. (2012 . 2013, September 12). Aritcles: Examples of Typical Situations of Injuries Caused by Dogs. Beger & Co. Lawyers. The Australian Veterinary Association Ltd. (2012, August). Dangerous Dogs – A Sensible Solution: Policy and Model Legislative Framework. Australia. Van den Burg, L. (2011, December 12). Dangerous Dog Breed Bans Won’t Stop Bites Say Health Professionals. Herald Sun.