October 5, 2016 – New Zealand’s government plans to introduce new breed specific legislation (BSL) in February 2017 that could see an estimated thousands of dogs euthanised because of the way they look, as opposed to how they behave, in an effort to combat rising dog attacks in the country.

Associate Minister for Local Government Louise Upston announced the national action plan last week, which will see “high risk dogs and their owners” subject to stricter controls under law.

“I know first-hand the joy that dogs bring to your life and that there are thousands of loved family pets in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the statistics clearly show that dog bite incidents are on the rise and children are over-represented as victims of dog attacks,” said Louise.

The plan consists of 3 parts: law changes and a neutering programme, a best practice guide (as yet undefined) and a public education programme.

“This initiative involves government funding of $NZ850,000 to subsidise the neutering of high-risk dogs. Neutering has been proven to reduce aggression in dogs which is important as we move into summer months and the school holidays,” Louise added.

Law changes will require owners of dangerous and menacing dogs to neuter all high-risk dogs, keep high-risk dogs in a fenced in area at home that allows visitors dog-free access to at least one house entrance, display signs at the front of their property alerting people to high-risk dogs, ensure dangerous or menacing dogs wear collars identifying them as high-risk.

Animal shelters will also be prevented from adopting out dogs deemed to be high-risk to new owners.

The Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of New Zealand (SPCA NZ) has said that the law changes means thousands of dogs, the majority family pets, will be unnecessarily killed.

“The most worrying part of this new action plan is the restriction on animal shelters, like the SPCA, preventing us from re-homing these dogs. What is going to happen to all the dogs that are guilty of nothing else than their visual appearance?” said SPCA New Zealand CEO Andrea Midgen.

“Essentially the Government is proposing to kill thousands of innocent dogs. The SPCA is completely opposed to this, and we plan to fight this with full force.”

The SPCA has launched an online petition and social media campaign to fight the government’s plan

The SPCA said that each individual dog should be judged based on temperament and behaviour, not breed.

“The main problem with the new action plan from the government is that it is not evidence-based or derived from research. Studies worldwide show that breed-specific legislation does not work. It does not reduce dog attacks or make communities safer for people or companion animals,” Andrea said.

Many countries that have instigated breed bans are repealing them as they have not been effective in reducing dog attacks. Examples of this include the Netherlands, Italy, parts of Germany, 18 American states and 231 American Municipal Governments. The UK government is currently reviewing its 25-year-old breed specific legislation.

The New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA) said the issue of dangerous dogs is a complex animal, human and environmental societal problem and that ultimately there must be an acceptance that the responsibility to control and improve the dangerous dog situation lies on the other end of the leash… in the hands of the owners.

“These dogs kill and injure the people we care about. However, relying on breed specific laws to manage dog aggression will not work, and is counter to moves being made in other countries.

“To target specific breeds or types as dangerous or aggressive is a gross oversimplification,” said Rochelle Ferguson, companion animal veterinarian spokesperson for NZVA. “Any dog can be made aggressive by an owner, so managing only certain types or breeds promotes a false sense of security,” she added.

Andrea agreed,  saying the SPCA’s view, based on available international scientific evidence, was that any dog may bite and that dogs should not be declared ‘menacing’ on the basis of visual appearance alone. She added that the organisation 100% supports the government’s move to make dog owners more responsible and that public education is a vital component of this.

“But the SPCA will absolutely not support this change. We will try to work with the government to come up with a sensible solution to the issue of dog bites in our communities without thousands of innocent dogs unnecessarily losing their lives.”

To sign the petition, please click the link below:

Photo: Courtesy of SPCA NZ – Dodie, the campaign’s mascot.

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