WA Today; Shane Green; December 7, 2011
The RSPCA’s Hugh Wirth with his border terriers, Lachlan and Lexie. He now believes legal sanctions are not the answer to the American pit bull problem. Photo: Joe Armao
FOR decades, Hugh Wirth was the nation’s most ferocious critic of American pit bulls: the dogs were killing machines and a despicable breed, he said. Now, he is officially silent.
Although still Victorian president of the RSPCA, Dr Wirth is no longer its public voice on the contentious issue of the breed’s existence.
It is not that his opinion on the dog has changed. Rather, it is the RSPCA that has changed, with an official policy that it is ”the deed not the breed” that matters.
”There’s a difference with my view as president of the RSPCA Victoria, and a difference with my attitude privately,” Dr Wirth said, speaking for the first time on the issue.
The new policy was adopted two years ago, but Dr Wirth’s position emerged only recently, after the August death of Ayen Chol, 4, who was attacked by a pit bull that entered her St Albans home.
Dr Wirth said there had been no RSPCA gag, but at 72 and after four decades as spokesman, it was time for the organisation to ”train some other people”.
RSPCA chief executive Maria Mercurio said policies were reviewed regularly, based on the latest research. ”Hugh epitomises to a large extent the RSPCA’s approach to these sorts of issues,” she said. ”While he holds a very strong personal position, the RSPCA as a whole needs to move on.”
Dr Wirth has shifted significantly his thinking on dealing with American pit bulls. He no longer supports a legislative approach. ”What I’m saying is that there is no hope of any legislation, including the latest legislation in Victoria, dealing with the problem of having pit bull terriers in the community,” he said.
”It just will not work. It’s not worked in England, it’s not worked in Holland, it’s not worked in Belgium, and it hasn’t worked in Italy. And all those countries have withdrawn the legislation because it’s so time-consuming.”
The community’s attitude to dog ownership had to change, he said, with a more rigorous approach to selecting dogs and raising them.
Dr Wirth said the legislation had given the community a feeling of safety – and that safety was non-existent. ”There’s been a political solution, which implies new community safety, and that’s not true.”
There is now a clear division between the state’s two key animal welfare groups.
The Lost Dogs’ Home, led by veteran Dr Graeme Smith maintains its fierce public opposition to the breed and strongly supports the new laws.
”We’re on the side of doing something about American pit bull terriers because of our concerns that they are a very dangerous dog,” Dr Smith said.
”When I interview owners who have been attacked by their own dogs, they talk about how the animal has been normal and well-behaved. Then all of a sudden, out of the blue, the dog goes off and attacks the owner.
”My feeling, generally speaking, is that laws can work, and 80 per cent of the population will abide by them.
”They will be an improvement in the way American pit bulls are managed.”
The first challenge to the new laws is expected to go before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal later this month, with a Ballarat couple arguing their dog was seized despite attempts to register it.
Original story here…….