Advocacy Overdrive – BSL in New Zealand - The Godzone is a Canine Warzone.

Breed Discrimination is a problem dog owners and dogs themselves face all over the world. As I have detailed in a blog about Australia and the recent call for “dangerous dog laws” in Victoria and else where in Australia, the problem is not simply a US issue.

New Zealand is also practicing dog breed discriminatory laws. They have been in place for almost 10 years. Now due to recent media frenzy over dog bite incidents the attitude towards dogs of a certain type are becoming increasingly hostile.

As with all lethal or fatal dog bite incidents there is a human behavior criteria that is always present. These factors cannot be discounted or over looked. Though as in the US, some media in New Zealand are not doing their journalisitc home work.

In New Zealand, just as in other parts of the world you will find the same sensationalistic journalism accompanied by opinions and feelings about dogs by people that have little or no legitimate education about canines.

The pit bull claimte in New Zealand is frightengigly similar in tone to the USA in the 80’s when the hype began.

It is interesting to note that only 5 people have died from dog bite related injuries in the entire history of recording dog bite related deaths in New Zealand. 5 deaths in 100’s of years is hardly an epidemic.

The population of New Zealand is roughly 4.4 million people and there are around 500 thousand registered dogs. It is estimated that there may be another 500 thousand dogs unregistered due to fear of breed bans placed on the following dogs –

American Pit Bull Terriers,Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro, and Tosa Inu. As with all BSL any dogs that may fit these “types” or “mixes” get tossed into the banned category.

(Rottweilers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, English Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Bull Terriers are not included in the ban to import/export breeds although when BSL was first in discussion, the proponents wanted to be able to include other breeds retrospectively including Rotties, Akitas and Dobermans but the NZKC got seriously exercised over the inclusion of NZKC registered breeds so the politicians didn’t go that far).

Recently I met Karen Batchelor through her Facebook page, American Pit Bull Terrier Association Inc. NZ.

She reached out to me for some guidance in dealing with the onslaught of disinformation about pit bulls by Bob Kerridge, the National President of the Royal New Zealand SPCA and chief executive of the Auckland SPCA.

There has also been the typical sensational media hype and opinion pieces filled with the usual ugly feelings, hyperbole, hatred and disinformation based on myths and complete ignorance.

Karen thanks for speaking with us and sharing the story of New Zealand’s issues with BSL.

Q 1 – What is your history with dogs?

Karen Batchelor - I have been a dog owner for some 36 years and American Pit Bull Terrier owner and advocate for the last 18 years. I’ve had an avid interest in animals and animal welfare for as long as I can remember and dogs hold a special place in my heart – most especially the amazing Pit Bull dog.

* Can you give the US readers and people from other parts of the world a bit of a geographical lay out of NZ. IE: Auckland is one major city what are the other main cities that have SPCA’s?

Karen Batchelor - NZ has two main islands: North and South. The Biggest cities are Auckland in the North Island, followed by Wellington (capital), and in the South Island Christchurch and Dunedin. A link to SPCA branch finder is at the end of the interview.

Q 2 – When did you start see a change in attitudes towards dogs in New Zealand?

Karen Batchelor - Dogs have always been discriminated against by a high percentage of landlords, and those who are intolerant of dogs for whatever reasons. That is usually due to bad ownership and bad experiences with damage, noise nuisance, fouling etc…However, the real heat went on in the mid-nineties following the breed bans and introduction of Breed Specific Legislation in the U.S.A., the U.K., and Queensland in Australia.

Q - 3 How long has NZ had BSL? Have there been any reduction in dog bites or dog bite related deaths?

Karen Batchelor - BSL was legislated in November 2003 as follows:
The following restrictions apply to dogs of these breeds: American Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino, Brazilian Fila, or Japanese Tosa Inu
• It is illegal to import them alive or as semen, ova, or embryos
• They are automatically considered "menacing dogs", which must be muzzled and on leash in public
• Regional councils may order them spayed/neutered
• They must be microchipped

Presa Canarios were included in these restrictions last year to prevent their entry into NZ. However, the hype started in earnest in the mid 90s after the second dog incident in NZ history that resulted in a death.

As to any reduction in dog indcidents of a fatal nature the last death was 7 years ago and, according to Donelle Whiu, ER nurse at Middlemore Hospital (which houses NZ’s largest plastic surgery unit), who is also a dog trainer and has been studying dog bite stats for the last several years, dog bite stats have in fact remained “static” despite the media claims of an ‘epidemic’.
BSL, in our experience, has greatly increased the number of Pit Bull type dogs and mixes bred on puppy mills and by back-yard-breeders to meet the demand of undesirable owners attracted to the breed by the hype and the subsequent number of dogs suffering cruelty, neglect, abandonment and premature and unnecessary death.

Q 4 – In New Zealand are the SPCA’s wholly owned and operated or is each SPCA an individual entity? In the US they are individual entities.

Karen Batchelor - SPCAs in NZ are overseen by the RNZSPCA and are run as charitable trusts:

Q 5 - What are the dog behavior educational requirements to work at an SPCA?

Karen Batchelor - For volunteers – according to senior inspector Vicki Border at Auckland SPCA – a one day induction course teaches the “do’s and don’t’s” (not specified although “your safety is paramount”) and a guided tour of the facility. Volunteers, she said, are trained by “experienced dog people”.
Inspectors must pass a one year course at Unitec:
“Distance learning for one year (including 3 x 5-day compulsory block courses) and 28 hours of compulsory work experience”
• Essential for industry recognition: to become a warranted animal welfare investigator under the Animal Welfare Act 1999, you need to have the Certificate in Animal Welfare Investigations and be employed by an approved organisation.
• 28 hours of compulsory work experience: you spend 20 hours working alongside a practising warranted animal welfare investigator and eight hours in a district court.
• Suitable for mature students, school leavers and those who work with animals and want to know more about animal welfare and the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
• Lecturers who are passionate about animals and experts in the fields of animal welfare investigations, animal behaviour, health and welfare. They continue to work closely with the industry.
• Visits from guest lecturers from the industry. (Costs around ($4900)
Once passed, applicants must apply to The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) for a warrant, and can then apply to an SPCA.

Q 6 – How much education do volunteers, the staff and management receive once employed by the SPCA?

Karen Batchelor - It has proved difficult to get a definitive answer to this question but if the degree of ignorance and misinformation we see in print is a yardstick it’s safe to say not much!

Q 7 – What are the dog training and dog behavior educational systems like for dog owners in New Zealand? Is it encouraged? Is there “industry” educating the communities?

Karen Batchelor - There is a one-hour ‘test’ by animal control contractors and a property inspection to qualify for an owner license which entitles owners to a reduced annual license fee.
Aside from this animal control contractors have historically visited schools but there is no public education per se. In fact there is a thriving industry of ‘dog trainers’. I was thinking in terms of official programmes in the previous answer. Anyone can hang out their shingle in NZ and call themselves a ‘dog trainer’. I have met many over the years and too many who in reality only qualify as a menace.

Q 8 – Leash Laws? How well enforced how well practiced?

Karen Batchelor - Spot fines exist, and they can be expensive but there is a high level of complaint about in-action on the part of animal control contractors. Typically, no action is taken on enforcement of any bylaws until something bad happens as we saw in the death in Murupara (2005). Residents reported that they had complained “for years” about the two dogs involved yet no action was taken. Photos appeared in the NZ Herald subsequently showing dogs still roaming at large in Murupara despite this death:

Complaints to animal control contractors about dogs roaming at large or off leash are usually met with the instruction to catch the stray dog and then call as they won’t come out unless the animal is secured, and there is no point in coming out for off leash dogs, they say, as they’re usually gone before staff can get there.
Other anecdotal reports describe animal control staff using lookouts at beaches and public parks to catch dog owners exercising dogs outside of allowed hours to apply spot fines.

There are some black spots in NZ where enforcement is so non-existent and dogs so out of control they are a postal worker’s no-go zone.

Drayton DSD - Bob Kerridge, the National President of the Royal New Zealand SPCA has stated, “the pit bull is the exception to the way we talk about dogs. No dogs are born bad, except pit bulls – owners make them bad”.

This statement contradicts itself. If it’s the owners that “make them bad” then how is it the dog’s fault?

With even a rudimentary look at genetics we can see that genes are not carbon copies and that not all of anything born to any species is an exact replica especially when it comes to behavior. One would think a national director of the SPCA would at the very least have a modicum of understanding as to how dog behavior works.

Dr. Karen Overall has stated that genes are not “carbon copies” and that dogs are not “born bad” but are a culmination of all the aspects of their development and the environment has more of an effect on behavior than genes. Many others in the legitimate behavior fields have also made this statement (Marder, Bradley, Scott, Fuller, Dunbar et al…) in relation to genetics and “pit bulls”. If it’s the owners that make them “bad” according to Kerridge and his ilk: and not the dogs, then why would he disparage the dogs? Why not go after humans and hold them accountable?

Does he understand that he works for The Society for the prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Pit Bulls are dogs, which are animals and not some other species or “type”?
One would have to ask; how is he even able to represent dogs and or protect them?

Q 9 - Why has the SPCA not been more focused on education and adoption rather than eradication of certain types of dogs?

Karen Batchelor - Although Bob Kerridge is the face of the SPCA in NZ he does not fairly represent the many SPCA inspectors that we at APBTA Inc. deal with regularly around this country who work exhaustively to educate and to re-home all types of dogs, including dogs that are or resemble the APBT. They are limited by funds and physical reach.

We have fostered and successfully re-homed a number of dogs of ‘the type’ from various SPCAs.
Unfortunately, Bob Kerridge’s Auckland SPCA staff have not so far made any contact with us.

This article in the New Zealand Herald – the national newspaper - proves the point:

As you can see, the comments from the CEO of RNZSPCA are in direct contrast to that of Mr Kerridge:

“Chief executive Robyn Kippenburger said the only “national rule” was that the organisation would “not adopt out any dogs that were behaviourally unsound”.

"It would be really dangerous for us to say 'We'll destroy all pitbulls' because there can be an identification issue.

"In our experience, we can have dogs that look very similar to pitbulls but are very different."

Bob Kerridge is the National President of the RNZSPCA and the Executive Director of the Auckland SPCA. We are confused as to why he is permitted to fly in the face of national policy with such appallingly harmful effect.
He has been quoted advising people not to take Pit Bulls into their homes, and stating that they are not welcome in his facility.
Some animal control agencies also refer owners wanting to re-home dogs of ‘the type’ to us rather than take them into their pounds where the policy is still no-exception euthanasia.

Yet Les Dalton, president of the Institute of Animal Control Officers, said (in the same article) the Government classified Pit Bulls as “menacing” for a reason.

"We believe that rehoming pitbulls is wrong, and most councils don't do it as policy”.
"The pitbull has aggressive characteristics that cause problems. We don't agree with [pitbull adoption] whatsoever."

Far North District Council senior animal control officer Ken Thomas said “the council would euthanase dog breeds listed in the act rather than rehome them”.

That was often more because of the irresponsible people who took them in, rather than the breed itself.”

As you can see, Breed Specific Legislation in NZ is a real ‘dog’s breakfast’ and some of those in positions of authority are plainly egregiously uninformed.

The consequences of that profound ignorance is deadly and has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of innocent dogs in their tens of thousands, and until this is addressed many, many more will die. Others in a position to make a difference and who DO know better are instead doing nothing.
It is a national disgrace.

Drayton - DSD - It would appear that the SPCA have simply bought the lies and are selling out dogs. If the contention is “it’s the owners that are the problem” then why not educate their staff to educate potential owners, institute a program for community awareness?

Karen Batchelor - It would seem, based upon the dearth of prosecutions – even in serious cruelty cases – and lack of widespread awareness intitiatives, that there is either a lack of political will or sufficient funds as with this horse owner, for example, who won’t be prosecuted as he is ‘co-operating’ by handing over the survivors, and despite the neglect being common knowledge in the local community for a considerable period of time:

Drayton - DSD - Additionally If the claim they will "not adopt out dogs that are behaviorally unsound" and they have zero education in assessing dogs for behaviors and adoptability, it appears it’s all a whole lot of guessing and gut feelings. The same problem exists in the US in shelters where one would think people working there would be educated about the dogs they work with and adopt out. Yet we have a massive gaping hole in the canine education system. Sadly it appears NZ is also suffering the same thing.

Q 10 – The euthanasia rates vs. adoption rates for Auckland council’s is as follows
For 2010 - 2011 (human population 1.25m – dogs estimated at 105k approx. 97.5k registered)

Central 535 euthanized 76 adopted
Manukau 1754 euthanized 174 adopted
Franklin 147 euthanized 49 adopted
Papakura 258 euthanized 39 adopted
West 458 euthanized 196 adopted
North 186 euthanized 137 adopted

These are really horrible numbers, and this is just for one city in NZ. How do other areas fare in terms of adoptions verses euthanasia rates?
A: The Auckland SPCA reported that they were unable to provide euthanasia figures for 2010/2011 but according to their annual report re-homed 686 dogs and puppies.

Karen Batchelor - Private rescue organisations have a zero euthanasia rate in my experience, ours being one, as we just hang in there until the right home is found. Unfortunately we can’t take them all but those we do take are immediately safe from the needle.

Q 11 – Based on some additional information you provided about some of the recent dog bite incidents it appears the human criteria repeats in NZ as it does around the globe. How many of these criteria have been found to be part of the lethal and fatal dog bite incidents in NZ?

The Delise Criteria as it is called is as follows
• Dogs used for protection, guarding, fighting or kept as a resident dog, not a companion dog.
• Dog socialized and trained with abusive methods
• Dog is housed, fenced or chained 24/7
• Children unsupervised
• Domestic violence
• Loose roaming dogs
• Dogs not spayed or neutered.

Karen Batchelor - All of the criteria are consistently met. Some of the worst incidents have occurred persistently in areas with the poorest demographics: high unemployment, high welfare dependency (sometimes into third and even fourth generations), high crime rates, financial hardship, child abuse and domestic violence.

Almost always the dog is a resident vs. family dog, lives on a chain and/or in the back yard or shed, roaming at large, unfenced, unaltered, unsocialised, unsupervised and commonly used as a ‘guard’ dog. And all too often considered a disposable object rather than a sentient and intelligent being and companion to be respected.

Lack of supervision is ever present, especially where the dog and the child are not co-habitants as with visiting children or dogs, or babies left alone with family dogs, ignorance in dog/human interaction and we would add to that list owner and/or animal illness, as in the Dunedin death where the owner suffered from Huntington’s Disease and should not have been in ownership at that stage of her disease: (Warning: graphic images) or where hypothyroidism in the dog, for example, causes behavioural aberrations.

Q 12 - How much focus is on dog owner education in NZ? What is the SPCA doing to better educate dog owners towards better training, better socializing and proper management of dogs?

Karen Batchelor - It seems Auckland SPCA has suspended their education programmes, as per their website:
”SPCA Auckland is currently conducting a review of our education programs with a view to re-launching these later in 2012. We will therefore not be conducting our school visit or school holiday programs this term. “ They do make some online resources available. Other SPCAs around the country use the Auckland website.

Drayton - DSD - Some people in the NZ media are also responsible for fomenting the hatred of dogs. Brian Rudman not so subtly suggests “bullets” as a solution and encouraged people to "barbecue" pit bulls.
Bob Kerridge of the SPCA has even said in the press “for every good story the advocates can show” he can show a “negative story”. However that is a lie as there are far more positive stories than stories that are directly related to lethal or fatal dog bites as they are rare, but get a bigger spot light.

Q 13 – How bad has the media been at fomenting fears? Would you suggest that the media in New Zealand suffers from the “if it bleeds it reads” mentality?

Karen Batchelor - The media have been incredibly unprofessional. For example, a member of the APBT Inc. reported to us that he had complained to his local paper for failing to report a serious mauling by a Collie dog. The editor of that paper replied when asked why not: “Collie dogs don’t sell newspapers, Pit Bulldogs do”.

The second death in the history of this country occurred as a result of an incident with pig dogs. This was front-page news and prime time TV for weeks being called Pit Bulls (and was used as the starting point for bringing BSL to NZ). When finally it was proven with a statement by a veterinary pathologist that they were not, a brief retraction was printed in the national newspaper in a back section without a bold heading, one column wide in a standard font.

In another serious mauling where the dogs were accused of being Pit Bulls and were not, a complaint was made and an apology ordered by the Broadcasting Standards Authority on prime time TV.

Typically, by the time these ‘apologies’ are made, the damage in the public psyche is done.

High-profile talkback hosts, TV personalities, and mainstream print media commentators have been united in disseminating the propaganda. Journos like Kerre Woodham who refers to Pit Bull owners as ‘mongrels’, Leighton Smith, Paul Holmes, Susan Woods, Brian Rudman, all well-known faces to New Zealanders and all trusted and liked, have indulged in the hatchet job on the tragedy that is the Pit Bulldog and, so far, have done so with impunity.

It must be remembered that there have been more than 30,000 pedigree American Pit Bull Terriers (i.e. those with traceable bloodlines going back in some cases 200 years), and countless mixes, in this country over the last 30+ years and not ONE death attributed to the breed.

According to Brian Neeson (who along with National MPs Christine Fletcher and Maurice Williamson brought BSL to NZ) Pit Bulls are “mindless, vicious killers”. 30,000 mindless, vicious killers but no death. Surely even the most bloody-minded anti-Pit Bull comentator has to see that there is something serioiusly wrong with this picture?

Drayton - DSD - In all breed specific legislations there are associated costs that must be attributed to it in order for the legislation to “work”. These costs are for kenneling, feeding, vet care, DNA testing, hauling, overtime for ACO’s, and of course the euthanasia and disposal of the dogs.

Q 14 – Who would benefit financially from laws that ban certain “types” of dogs?

Karen Batchelor - The contractors that successfully tender their services are the obvious beneficiaries for any service that they provide. Without knowing the details of those contracts it is impossible to know how they are rewarded for performance but if the ‘user pays’ approach of the new Auckland Council created under the Super City restructuring is anything to go by – i.e. charging dog owners 80% of the costs and council 20% - we are about to endure a generally anti-dog environment that will be punitive and expensive for all dogs, not just Pit Bulldogs as the intention – unless we scare them off with the current uprising - is a doubling, and in some cases a tripling of our annual fees etc. That is not inconsiderable.
The registration fee for my own unaltered bitch is $110/annum plus penalties if paid after 1 August which last year was an additional $25.

That will rise to $210 and the penalty for late payment will be an additional $50.

That, of course, is extra bad news for dogs of ‘the type’ as they will be specifically targeted for desexing and in poorer neighbourhoods failure to comply will be a regular and predictable occurrence with euthanasia all too often the outcome when fines cannot be met.

Just as an aside, DNA tests are not used to identify breed in NZ. Instead a ‘checklist’ is employed:'s_check_list.htm

Whoever drew up this document has little knowledge of anatomy or conformation (for example referring to the bone between the shoulder and elbow as the humorous instead of it’s correct name humerus, and to flews as lews etc). It appears to be a poorly cut and pasted medley from various breed standards full of errors. It certainly isn’t scientific or a suitable tool to decide a dog’s fate.

Q 15 – What do you see on the horizon for NZ and breed discriminatory laws? How can people help stop BSL in NZ? Who can they contact?

Karen Batchelor - Simply put, there is no-one to contact.
A question put to RNZSPCA Head Office about who to complain to about Bob Kerridge’s plainly wrong public statements was met with a rather prickly response from Robyn Kippenberger’s P.A. who referred us back to Bob Kerridge.

Having pointed out what a hiding to nothing that is we were advised that we could put a written complaint in to Barbara Daw, Executive Officer of the RNZSPCA whose superior is the National Manager Alan Wilson.

Previous attempts at communication with Ms Kippenberger and Ms Daw have gone unanswered.

Our Veterinary Association has the usual anti-BSL position statement as does the Kennel Club – both were ignored as BSL and it’s anti-pet proponents march inexorably on.

Our members of parliament pay lip service to any communications with them and continue with the agenda despite the science, qualified opinion, overseas statistics, repeal after repeal etc.

Our hope lies with the increasing rejections of BSL around the planet and the slow awakening of the public psyche which will eventually result in the ejection of incompetent and ignorant people from public office and positions of responsibility.

That process is undoubtedly underway (thanks to people such as yourselves at Dog Star Daily, KC Dog Blog, K9 Magazine, BSL News, StopBSL, Best Friends and many, many others), although as a country used to being recognized as innovators and leaders it’s a little embarrassing to be playing catch-up from such an obviously backward position.

New Zealand is a beautiful country populated by genuine and good people. Once we oust BSL and those responsible for it, and restore all dogs to their rightful position as valued family members deserving of our love, respect, and protection we can once again call NZ Godzone, not a canine war zone.

Drayton - DSD - I’d like to thank Karen Batchelor for her time and her tireless efforts on behalf of all dogs in NZ.

It was Margert Mead that said “a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has”.

As in recent victoires in the US such as Ohio passing HB14 and ending it’s state wide BSL or Denver allowing all tyoes of dogs to be service dogs, anywhere where BSL has been stopped from being passed or has been ended after years of death and taxes it is usually the result of a small group of people ever commited to the cause of canine justice.

We can all do a part by being the voice for dogs and never remaining silent or on the side lines. You can do something. A retweet, a link posted or information obtained and the diseminated hand to hand in shelters and throughout the community are all easy to do.

I emplore the New Zealand Government to end all breed discriminatory practices and educate your citizens with proper humane canine information. You can prevnet the killing of thousands of dogs with the stroke of a pen.

I encourage the New Zealand media to stop it’s Nazi style profiling of dogs. As with most in the media they are not thinking past that days ratings. New Zealand's media please realize that fomenting fears towards "pit bulls" has real life and death consequences. Pleasse become educated and stop your culpability in the deaths of thousands of dogs.

What to do ?
If your city state or country has or may be considering BSL. Please conact me through my website and we will discuss effective ways to educate the media and the community so that dogs are better understood and everyone can reduce their stress and their related concerns about dogs.

For more information on dogs, pit bull dogs, ending BSL and how to contact the media effectivly please visit the links below.

Addressing the Media
A short video to help you become heard when conatcting the media.

The Pit Bull Hoax DVD
Short 12 minute video with hard to argue against experts in dog behavior. Don’t guess look to the best! This DVD has helped thousands of people become better educated on dogs and BSL!

For information about New Zealand’s issues with BSL visit these links

NZ SPCA branch locations here:

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