Appeals on risky breeds begin to bite

The Age; Vince Chadwick, Deborah Gough; June 11 2013

Councils are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars defending appeals against Victoria’s controversial restricted-breed laws, which many dog experts say are ill-defined and poorly enforced.

Restricted dogs are those found to have the characteristics of one of five breeds under a state government standard. The dogs must be destroyed unless they were in the state before September 2010 and are registered.

In September 2011, the state government ended an amnesty for owners who declared their dogs, after four-year-old Ayen Chol was mauled to death in St Albans by a pit bull-mastiff cross that had escaped from a neighbour’s yard.

Dr David Lowe, a terrier specialist judge from Dogs Victoria, said the law mistakenly targeted entire breeds, without looking at the behaviour of individual dogs.

Canine Services International dog behaviour expert Brad Griggs said dogs’ behaviour was usually related to hereditary factors, socialisation, training and a victim’s response to the dog. He said it was exceptionally rare for dogs involved in an aggressive act to be irredeemable.

Dr Lowe said it was incongruous that dangerous dogs, that had caused injury requiring medical treatment to a person or animal, were not euthanased, whereas restricted breeds were.

An appeal now before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal has highlighted the difficulty in judging whether a dog meets the criteria based on features such as its head, body, coat and hindquarters.

Under cross-examination, an officer from Cardinia Shire Council could not identify the location of the occiput – at the back of the skull – even though his report said the dog’s skull met the description of a restricted breed. He and his colleague did not precisely measure the animal’s features, and he struggled to say how he concluded the dog’s muzzle was ”powerful” as required by the standard.

VCAT vice-president, Judge Michael Macnamara, was sympathetic, telling the council officer: ”You’re thinking, ‘I didn’t write this rubbish’. God knows who did?”

The City of Monash has spent $120,000 defending appeals under the legislation and has humanely put down two pit bulls since September 2011. Moonee Valley City Council has spent about $50,000, though no dogs have been destroyed.

Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh said all-breeds judges from Dogs Victoria were training council officers how to assess dogs.

Referring to the death of Ayen Chol, Mr Walsh said: ”We must never forget that a defenceless young child lost her life to a pit-bull whose owners said it had been trained, had never previously shown aggression, and had played with children”.
Original here

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