Advocacy Overdrive - Australia's dogs are under siege - Please send help!

When I first saw the advertisement in a Victoria Australia newspaper that Pit Bulls would be “seized and put down if not registered by September 30th” I admit I was waiting for a clever joke or perhaps it was one of those scary ads for dog owners to wake up. It was real a wake up call, it was not a joke and it is a real advert in an actual newspaper. This is not a joke or an exaggeration. By September 30th 2011 Victoria Australia is planning on seizing and killing dogs, "pit bulls" that are not registered. Be they “pit bulls” or not.

I have been a friend of Mike Bailey of Good For Dogs through Facebook for a few years. His organization Good For Dogs works at educating the public about humane and responsible ways to address dog issues and emphasizes adoption from shelters over purchasing “pets”. His interests here are purely to help dogs and get some logic interjected into the situation. This interview was conducted via email. What you read is what was asked and answered.

Q – Please give a time line of how the Australian government decided to seize and kill any unregistered Pit Bull Terriers and Pit Bull mixes?

A - It's actually a lot worse than that. Recently passed laws changed the definition of Restricted Breed Dog to include any dog that fits the Government's 'approved standard'. Dogs can be seized based purely on their appearance regardless of breed. Two weeks after the tragic death of four-year-old Ayen Chol in August 2011, the Victorian State Government rushed legislation through Parliament to extend the scope of breed restrictions. Any dog declared a restricted breed dog could be seized and killed unless the owner could prove it had lived in Victoria prior to 1 Sep 2010 and that it had been registered (as any breed) prior to 29 Sep 2011. They also established the 'Dob in a Dangerous Dog Hotline' for people to report neighbors’ dogs they believe may have some pit bull in them.

Q – In the fatal dog bite incidents how investigative does the Australian press get? Meaning how well do they get to the bottom of why the bite incident occurred? From what I have read they are just like the US press they use Pit Bull in the headline if they can and then detail the basics, if that and not much else.

A - Fatal dog attacks are rare in Australia with about 34 being reported since 1979. A very small percentage of Australia's 20 million humans are seriously injured in dog bite accidents each year. While there is no evidence to indicated pit bulls are over represented in dog bite statistics the media show little interest in reporting attacks where they cannot claim a pit bull was responsible. Dogs are frequently misreported as being pit bulls. While the vast majority of injuries occur in the home and involve dogs that are known to the victim, Australian media reports tend to focus on attacks in public places by unfamiliar dogs. They rarely provide information about what led to the attack or how it could have been prevented.

Q – Are any press or journalists stepping up to shed light on the inhumanity being displayed towards Pit Bulls? The danger in any broad based ban or seize and kill operation would be the over inclusive under inclusive rule. A dog owner may have a well behaved dog that is a Pit Bull terrier and perhaps the registration lapsed, and then there could be a non pit bull type dog that has behavior issues and is owned by a reckless owner, yet they do not fit the bill looks wise and that dog goes under the radar especially if registered.

A - Even when reporters write balanced pieces their newspapers choose images like this one to give the story more bite (excuse the pun). Even the Government's identification standard for pit bulls includes pictures of dogs that have been dressed up to look tough. I refer to it as the 'studded crown of thorns' in reference to how disrespectful they are to mock the innocent they are about to kill.

Q – How are dog owners in general taking this new ruling? I would imagine people are very worried, registered dogs or not. What is the stress level in the dog owning community? The advert in the paper is very startling it harkens to Nazi propaganda and Nazi brutality. In one breath the ad speaks of Pit Bull Terriers then it says Dogs. It is glaringly prejudice as it does essentially target all dogs. A - Most Australian dog owners see their pet as a family member. The possibility that the authorities might come to take their dog away despite it having done nothing wrong is making people sick with worry. The state's biggest pound contractor, who supports the new laws, reported that owners releasing their pit bulls into the streets to avoid the new laws. Closer examination revealed no evidence to support this but it was a sensational story for the media so they ran with it.

Q – What has been the response to the ad? The ad is asking the average citizen to judge a dog’s behavior as “dangerous” and report it. This is tantamount to profiling and as it relates to dog behavior those of us that work with dogs and assess behavior can explain that leash reactive or fence reactive dogs are not always aggressive, yet if a person fears that dog or that type of dog they can in a snap report that dog and potentially have the dog euthanized because they are fearful, and not because the dog is an actual danger. Looking at this with a modicum of common sense it is impossible to come to any other conclusion other than this is genocide and xenophobia of Pit Bulls, and dogs in general.

A - Most Australians do not know what a Pit Bull looks like. Dog owners report having been abused on the street for having 'one of those dogs' when their dog is not a Pit Bull. The government reports that hundreds of people have called the 'Dob in a Dangerous Dog Hotline' to DOB in a neighbor’s dog.

Q - Is the government aware how ludicrous it is to ask citizens judge dog behavior?

A - The Government is aware that these measures are primarily intended to allay public concerns. They're more about covering themselves against media accusations the next time a child gets killed.

Q – Has there been any organizations that have stepped up and opposed the ruling? RSPCA President Dr. Hugh Wirth has said that "They are time bombs waiting for the right circumstances,'' "The American pit bull terrier is lethal because it was a breed that was developed purely for dog fighting, in other words killing the opposition”. "They are not suitable pets for anybody.' This runs counter to his humanitarian image. If he is such a great protector of animals and has a doctorate he should be aware of how behavior works and the criterion surrounding fatal and lethal dog bite incidents.

A - After Hugh said that in 2009 he was politely told to STFU, as his views do not represent the RSPCA. Here's some video from 2010 where he clarified the RSPCA's position. RSPCA Victoria has said they support 'deed not breed' but aren't fighting hard on this issue. The Australian Veterinary Association have been pointing out that breed identification from visual examination is not possible and that the news laws target appearance instead of behavior of dog and owner.

Q - Has anyone in the government read JVMA 2006 report and acknowledged that breed discrimination is not a valid way to reduce dog bite incidents, and is anyone in government standing in opposition to the laws being brought forth?

A - The Government know this is just a measure to placate the public and show that they're doing something.

Q – Who is pursuing this Pit Bull witch - hunt with such gusto? What is there to gain from this by those wanting to restrict and potentially eradicate Pit Bulls in Australia?

A - Private contractors who supply rangers to seize the dogs and pounds to hold them while owners fight in the courts. In the UK, Scotland Yard wants to contract out the dogs' transport, kenneling and care to the private sector and members of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) were told the contract could be worth up to £10.6 million over four years. One of the biggest supporters of the new laws in Victoria is Graeme Smith, CEO of Victoria's biggest private pound operator. In 2010 they reported a $2.7 million profit and killed 13,594 cats and dogs. These laws will send more dogs and $$$ their way.


Please send a respectful, peaceful letter or email to the people and organizations listed in this blog.

There has been no real investigation into the owners of the dogs that killed the 4 year old girl Ayen Chol. By finding out ALL the relevant facts on dog bite fatalities we get the whole story and everyone is educated as to how and why it happened. Dogs are products of their environment their collective history. This is the responsibility of the people in their charge.

Perhaps if enough people make their views on this known through respectful discourse we can help the dog’s down under get some much needed understanding and empathy.

The legitimate research into dog bites and fatalities show that they are a rare occurrence in Australia, much like in the US and much like in the USA the Australian media has perpetuated the hysteria and there are, much like in the USA machinations at work with financial interests resulting from the killing of dogs. This short 5 - minute video is a guide on how to contact the media about dog bite incidents.

The stats are geared towards the US, but the message is the same. Use facts not feelings when contacting the media or others when defending dogs. Addressing The Media Video

Huge thanks go to Mike Bailey from Good For Dogs for speaking out and being a voice for dogs. His work in exposing this issue is very much appreciated and applauded. Please follow him on Facebook and Twitter for further developments about the situation in Australia. If this can happen in Australia it can happen in the USA. Please help stop this madness. Remember if us dog people don’t defend the dogs no one else will.

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