Dog trains man

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Danish breed ban rests on historically thin basis

by: Thomas Hoffmann, journalist for "science denmark" ("videnskab.dk")

The Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) in Denmark is among other based on a single insignificant police neighbourhood investigation. New information paints a unique picture of politicians who legislate based on media coverage and people's fear - and without looking at the facts.


"Two fighting dogs went crazy: They would kill Sille and Ronja!"

"Bitten half to death!"

"Fighting dog killed little Chico!"

Many Danes have undoubtedly heard some wild stories of maimed and murdered victims of "dangerous fighting" dogs, whether children, adults or other dogs.

Especially in 2009 and 2010 the Danish media bubbled with horrific stories, at the same time making it sound like the population of "dangerous" dogs was expanding rapidly, and caused politicians to act and ban 13 breeds.

The law can be ripped completely apart

On the surface it seems like a sensible decision to impose a ban. When dangerous fighting dogs bite loose in the streets, it makes sense to remove them so we can all go in peace.

But when you look closely at the arguments and the knowledge that underlies the prohibition, logic evaporates as soon as an unrestrained bitch in heat.

So says Cecilie Thorslund, who has as the first dived into the background of the Danish Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and has described her spectacular discoveries in a thesis judged with the highest top mark.

"The government has broken with 80 years of tradition in dog legislation by dropping documentation. If you look at the factual arguments, the law falls completely apart. It has been more important to show decisiveness than to ensure decision-making on a sound basis," concludes Cecilie Thorslund, who wrote her thesis in Social Science at Roskilde University (RUC).

Other countries dropped BSL because it has no effect

Cecilie Thorslund brings in three central points:

1. De 13 banned breeds of dogs - with Pitbull Terrier and American Staffordshire Terrier (Amstaff) as the most famous - account for only 6 percent of the 5,000 dog bites which are annually registered in Denmark. By comparison, German Shepherds, Rottweilers and Dachshunds account for a total of 78 percent.

2. Holland, Scotland and Italy have had a similar BSL against the biggest and strongest dogs. Experience from the three countries shows that neither did it limit the number of bites, gave fewer serious accidents, or for that matter, made people more comfortable because of the ban.

3. The three countries have even chosen to cancel or adjust the law because it had no effect.

"And from what I've seen, there is no reason to believe that the ban would have a greater effect in Denmark," notes Cecilie Thorslund.

The countries have instead adopted rules that punish individual dogs and owners for their actions rather than to restrict the dogs because of race.

A bloodhound goes on a hunt ...

One of the best examples of sloppiness in the legislation is related to a specific number, which is still referenced eagerly in the debate about dangerous dogs.

According to many media - and the basis for Dogs Act 2010 - Denmark has 20,000 of the unpopular dogs.

But in Denmark only a fraction of dogs are registered, so where does the number come from?

Cecilie Thorslund decided to put her nose down on the track and by gaining access to official records, sniffed her way back to the original source.

A Copenhagen neighbourhood comes into focus

It turns out that the figure came from Danmarks Radio, the Danish national TV station, who in turn received it from the Danish Kennel Club.

The Kennel Club has the original version of the only known head-count from a neighbourhood in Copenhagen where the local police over two days made an attempt to interview people on the street with a dog, that "seemed dangerous" - especially dogs of the 13 breeds that are now banned - to investigate whether the dog was registered.

Wild equation quantifies number on dangerous dogs

The experience from the small random study in a Copenhagen neighbourhood is used by the Danish Kennel Club when they are asked by Danmarks Radio to provide an estimate of the number of "dangerous" dogs throughout the country.

The idea is, according to Cecilie Thorslund, when only ¼ of the dogs in that neighbourhood are registered, you can just take the number of registered dogs in the Danish Dog Register and multiply it by four, and you get the number of dogs throughout the country.

So conceived, so done: In 2009, the Danish Dog Register had around 6,000 "dangerous" dogs in their registers. That figure was multiplied up to 24,000. However, to make the figure slightly conservative, the Kennel Club decided to round it down to 20,000.

The figure has since been referenced frequently in the media - but far worse: It has been used as an argument in a central report that forms the basis of the BSL against "dangerous" dogs.

"This tiny police report suddenly becomes a major and supporting argument in favor of BSL because surely that many dogs can only create problems. But nobody ever questioned the figure, and there is no reference to further studies in the report," explains Cecilie Thorslund, who among others, has analyzed the transcripts of all the political discussions and all communication with organizations that were involved in the decision making.

Police report is an "absurd" bad source

The particular neighbourhood in Copenhagen is due to its many immigrants and socially disadvantaged people hardly a representative sample for the whole country.

But even if the figures from the randomly performed police report could really say anything about the rest of the country, it would still be too uncertain to use, according to Cecilie Thorslund.

"I would argue the police report is an almost absurd source because of its racist phrases and random remarks like that the dog is a 'potency extension' and owned by 'people with another ethnic background than Danish or other people with low self-esteem'. It is, in other words, not completely objective."

"I was actually shocked that there could be so poor documentation for something as important as a law that affects thousands of people and dogs and it's just one example of the lack of knowledge in this whole process," said Cecilie Thorslund .

The police also noted at all meetings they had on the streets, the owner's apparently had control over their dogs.

Great opposition to dog law

Cecilie Thorslund stresses that the Danish Kennel Club opposes the ban on the 13 dog breeds. The same applies to all other organizations and stakeholders who were consulted.

For the thesis, Cecilie Thorslund interviewed several people with a passion for dogs from the banned breeds. Everyone is against the law, and several of them said that they will ignore it, either by illegally buying dogs abroad, or even to breed puppies of the breeds they love.

Those few - but illustrative - interviews shine some light on the fact previous bans at home and abroad have had little effect, and this input could have been used by politicians, when they decided to introduce a ban.

The experts were consulted

Politicians chose the opposite route and overheard expert advice, like among others the introduction of a license requirement for dog owners. Instead, they send this message to members of the dog committee, including the Danish Kennel Club, the National Police and Animal Protection:

Get us a list of the dogs, we prefer to prohibit.

"It is a sad misconception among many that the dog committee recommended a ban because it was actually something that was forced upon them. The report shows clearly the members think it is a bad idea, but when politicians want alternatives, they come up with some. "

"The government's communication towards the Committee indicate that it had already decided what should happen before the committee had done its work, and it's yet another reason why I interpret this as pure symptom policy making by the government. The idea is to show they were acting. But when you act this way, it is based on fear and not on facts," underlines Cecilie Thorslund.

King Christian .7 (1749 - 1808) was influenced by an erection

Politicians can at least be happy to be in the same boat as one of the great rulers in Danish history.

The hardworking Cecilie Thorslund has on top of all the needed investigative paperwork to investigate the law, been down into the National Archives to find out how Danes have historically seen dogs and legislated against them.

She cited an example from 1769, when King Christian .7 with a regulation required that all dogs would be killed if they were not kept on a leash.

One single incident in the waiting room of a recognized doctor had stirred up the respectable community. A young patient with rabies showed up, clearly suffering and only wearing a sheet. And under the sheet: a properly erect penis, which outraged all other respectable patients in the waiting room.

They knew even back then that rabies primarily came from bats and rats, but because the young patient received so much attention for his amoral erection in a public space, the king clearly had to take action.

"Christian .7 wrote off all the knowledge and documentation of rabies and imposed a ban in order to please the public, and politicians are doing completely the same today. This case is about dogs, but it probably could just as easily have been about burkas, jail sentences, or anything else, "notes Cecilie Thorslund.

Twice as many races under observation

The Dogs Act will be evaluated in 2013. It is already in the air, that it should include more breeds. 12 races have already been put under special observation and can be covered by a subsequent law, bringing the total number of banned breeds up to 25.

The currently banned breeds are:
  • Pitbull terrier
  • Tosa inu
  • American Staffordshire Terrier
  • Fila Brasileiro
  • Dogo Argentino
  • American Bulldog
  • Boerboel
  • Kangal
  • Central Asian ovtcharka
  • Caucasian ovtcharka
  • South Russian ovtcharka
  • Tornjak
  • Sarplaninac
Breeds under observation, and possibly banned in the near future:
  • Anatolian Shepherd Dog 
  • Bull Mastiff 
  • Cane corso italiano 
  • Cao fila de Sao Miguel 
  • Dogo canario 
  • Ibero mastiff 
  • Maremma 
  • Mastin espanol 
  • Mastino napoletano 
  • Polski Owczarek podhalanski 
  • Rottweiler 
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
The list, according to the Justice Department, can later be expanded to more breeds.

***

Copyright: http://www.videnskab.dk/
Link to the original article in Danish: http://videnskab.dk/kultur-samfund/muskelhunde-lov-hviler-pa-historisk-tyndt-grundlag

A big thank you to "Science Denmark" ("videnskab.dk") and journalist Thomas Hoffmann for allowing me to reprint their story in English on this blog and help spread the word, also across the borders of Denmark.


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Sunday, May 22, 2011

A week of discussing breed bans without facts

Kenzo making his voice heard
After a whole week of mass-hysteria fueled by Danish media an all too common scenario has unfolded once more.

Politicians line up in a desire to act. And want to act now. Blind for reasoning and facts, they are working on proposals to further strengthen Denmark's Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).

Judging the comments you left on my blog and the reactions I got through Facebook and Twitter, it is a recognizable turn out of events and not limited to Denmark unfortunately.

Naive

When it all started, with the heartbreaking clip of the vet that collapses after euthanizing/killing 12 puppies that belonged to a banned breed, my hope was it could spark a debate. But I was being naive. The mass-hysteria train took over and proved unstoppable yet again. The discussion that enfolded was a lot like the situation from last year, that lead to BSL being implemented in Denmark in the first place.

Media and politicians locked in a frenzy

What we witnessed happening last week is not isolated to BSL or animal welfare alone. It is a general problem we struggle with in our society, where media can create a storm surrounding an incident and politicians cannot see any other way out then to act. Media and politicians lock each other in an ever escalating frenzy and have fact finding as their lowest priority. As if we did we not invent statistics to support decision making in a valid manner. Facts are ignored and moral standpoints are preferred.

New facts surfaced

Especially saddening was almost no light was shed on recent research from Cecilie Thorslund about the Danish BSL laws. In her thesis for Roskilde University, Cecilie proves beyond a doubt the BSL laws are based on incorrect evidence. Here is a link to an article about her research - unfortunately in Danish only. Politicians were confronted with this info later in the week. But as they had already been set in their "act-now-mode", they could not respond properly anymore. More action was needed and loopholes in the law closed, not re-evaluation.

Hangover

The discussion has now died out again. And leaves me and a lot of others with the feeling of a massive hangover. On the bright side, I met a lot of like-minded people, interested in facts and voicing their opinions too. Together we wrote letters and send them to news media, politicians, even all the way up to the European Union. A big thank you to all my friends on Facebook and Twitter that shared, tagged and tweeted the Open letter to Merete Eldrup, the director of the TV station - TV2- that sparked last weeks events. And a special thanks to Celia Sue Hecht, Rod and Amy Burket from gopetfriendly.com who joined me in bringing an international voice to the Facebook wall of the TV station.

Next round

The BSL discussion will flare up again soon, as a new list with an additional 13 breeds that could be banned will be discussed in the near future. Which could make the total count of breeds banned in Denmark 26 in all. Lets hope we can all learn from what happened during last week and see if next time we can have a discussion based on facts. Either way, we'll be back, asking for facts.


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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Open letter to Merete Eldrup

Dear Merete Eldrup,

I am still shocked by yesterday's program on your TV station - TV2 - about the effects of BSL in Denmark. It started with that heartbreaking clip of a veterinarian that collapses after having to euthanize/kill a litter of 12 puppies. It wasn't an isolated story. Your station quickly brought additional stories on a daily basis, in a Discovery Channel Shark Week style. Complete with follow-ups in social media and additional background stories on your website. It seems like a well-prepared campaign. Having witnessed the third day of your campaign, I am still shocked. But now for different reasons

What is more shocking

For such a well-prepared campaign it is surprisingly shallow and unbalanced. I was surprised to find out you used the suffering of the vet and the 12 puppies for a totally different agenda. What I have seen so far is vets being accused not to enforce the BSL laws by registering puppies as mixed breeds. Police being accused of not providing the manpower to enforce the law. Lawmakers being accused of not anticipating that breeders would still breed with dogs of the banned breeds, and that the law should be expanded.

What about the suffering

This is not about law enforcement. You put the world upside down. What BSL leads to is dogs being dropped in woods and abandoned to die a horrible death. Dogs fading away in shelters and litters with puppies being euthanized. Dogs that are euthanized by families that no longer want them because they feel ashamed to have a dog that needs to wear a muzzle. This is animal suffering. Animal suffering that is caused by the BSL Denmark implemented. Not by the lack of enforcing that law.

Installing fear in people's hearts

In the interview with Marlene Harpsøe, from the political party "Dansk Folkeparti", your journalist let her get away with installing fear in people's heart's. Three times she made the point we can not live safe with our children with these dogs. Your journalist had three opportunities to ask her which breed she would think is guaranteed dog-bite free, but asked nothing. Thank god for Christian H. Hansen, from the newly erected "Fokus" party, was also in the same interview. In all programs on the subject you have aired so far, he was the only one that was allowed to mention that the problem lies with irresponsible owners and breeders. It was treated as a well-kept secret. I would have been nice to ask him what we could do about that, but unfortunately it was suffocated by Marlene Harpsøe with remarks like "some breeds are more dangerous than others". Apparently she read George Orwell's book but missed the point.

Speaking about missing the point

Worst was the interview with the breeder that had 3 litters of puppies which all are euthanized/killed. And left not much doubt that he will continue with his business. The case the journalist wanted to present was that the BSL laws are flawed as the breeder should not be allowed to breed these forbidden dog breeds. Excuse me? Is it not the case that this breeder should not be allowed to breed any breed of dog or other animal species for that matter, and that Danish animal welfare law therefore as a whole is very flawed on this subject?

Why are you not asking questions

Where is the rest of the story? Why don't I hear you ask questions why BSL was recently abandoned in Holland because they found out it doesn't work? Why is nobody from the Hannover Vetenarian University interviewed about their scientific research that shows aggression is more nurture then nature? Why is there no report from the US, where in all 75 breeds are banned, yet it doesn't give results in the bite statistics? Very relevant for Denmark, as the next 13 breeds are already lined up, and 26 breeds in all will be banned soon. Why are we not informed about  the European "Responsible Owner" plan which the European Union recently launched, and will affect Denmark and its animal welfare laws sooner or later?

Your main funding is coming from Danish tax payers. They pay because they want balanced and independent reporting. And not to have government policies blindly copied just because there is the-"law"-word in BSL. How do you think your station is living up to those expectations?

Kind regards,
Leo Scheltinga


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Sunday, May 15, 2011

My first beauty contest

We are up-hill, what more do you need?
Do our dogs move boundaries? Since I have attended my first ever beauty contest today and I actually enjoyed it, I would say yes.

After deciding that Kenzo needs to be either showed, neutered - or probably both, we visited our very first Hovawart show today, to "sniff" out the atmosphere in preparation of Kenzo's first appearance in September's show.

And we have no regrets. Wonderful dogs of course. But we also met a lot of interesting people. A lot of breeders actually. We talked with some of them and they had so much passion. One talked about his latest litter. Deciding to hold on to his last two puppies that didn't find a home before the end of their socialisation window. Now that's responsible breeding. As it should be.

I was actually most worried about the parking lot, having heard dogs were left in hot cars during shows. But how differently that turned out. Yes, there were dogs left in cars. But they were placed in the shade of trees, with an open hood pointing away of the road - where the dogs enjoyed a good afternoon nap confined in the car. Alright, they were Hovawarts, so I admit we were accompanied by a barking orchestra guiding our way through the parking lot.

I was also impressed with some of the alterations people made to their cars to act as a "Hovie" vehicle. One even showed an SUV with a garden-like interior, complete with garden fences. Travelling safe can be fun too!

Today's winner passing by: Hertos !
The show itself was very interesting as well. The judge gave her verdicts out loud which was very informative. What I loved was that she not only talked colors and looks, but also took stamina and temperament into the equation. Learning her background was equally impressive, as she had a Master's degree and worked with the institute of Genetics, at the University of Bern (Switzerland).

The winner of today's show - Hertos - was an awesome dog. Beautiful and with a lot of temperament. Almost as beautiful as Kenzo of course.

A day with good info, and enough for us to start prepping Kenzo for his first show in September this year - we were too late to register for this one. He will do great on all obedience-related stuff, like standing still and running through the ring without jumping. But we have to work with Kenzo keeping his cool on the touch of strange people. Yet some of our new Hovawart friends got us worried and thought Kenzo could have too much "over-bite" and risks disqualifying. We'll see. Doing the show is the goal, and after all neutering Kenzo is the inevitable result whatever the outcome. So let's enjoy the ride.

Today we also met a "Blau schein" Hovawart. A Hovawart with a special blue-ish glow over his coat. He was not judged as it not an official color, but boy what a good looking fellow he was and with an awesome temperament. He was pretty popular with the ladies too. Which leaves me with the only down-side of today, it is difficult to walk away from utter in- and outside beauty, just because it is against a general definition.
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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Travel concerns

Does this looks like vacation to you?
Kenzo is alright with traveling. He endures being on the road as long as we end up somewhere close to a beach. The reward of the destination outweighs the temporary discomfort from being confined inside a car. With Viva it is another story. Viva is nervous about change. Traveling a long time by car, exploring new places, and the possibility to meet new dogs is just a bridge too far.

We always take extra good care of Viva and make sure she is as comfortable as possible. Yet, a typical 600 mile trip by car would look like this:
  • The first hour of the trip she is sitting up-right and pants mildly trying to make up her mind what is happening
  • On a break, she has to decide between to evils. Stay in the car? Or go out into this new scary place I don't know?
  • Toilet-breaks for her human company adds to the anxiety as she suspects we might not return
  • She whines over the mere sight of another dog
  • The last hours of the trip she spends sitting up-right, panting nervously

Is traveling with Viva a good idea? Leaving her home in good care without her family seems not a valid alternative due to her separation anxiety. We could cut down on our vacation trips, but we have to travel for our business. There seems no way around it.

Could D.A.P. help?

Trying to find ways to deal with this, medication is an option. But I have been avoiding it, weary about anything that has to do with drugs. Then Jana from dawgbusiness - who else - recommended Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or D.A.P., as an option. The scent of pheromone is used by a dog mother to calm her litter of puppies. I asked around on Twitter and the feedback was mixed. But I thought it was worth giving it a try, although I didn't had my hopes up.

Yesterday we traveled 600 miles by car from Copenhagen (Denmark) to The Hague (Holland) for a one week business trip. This time we used D.A.P. I sprayed the rear-area of the car several times during the trip. It worked. It just did. Viva laid down after 10 minutes. She has never done that before. She has only been sporadically sitting up-right, and when she did, her panting was not as nervous as before. The last hours of the trip she remained in a laid down position. There was no change in her reluctance to leave the car and explore a new place. And she still whined when another dog was in sight. But D.A.P. made her time spend inside the car a lot more comfortable.

Should we travel at all?

There was an excellent discussion last week on Edie Jarolim's blog "Do Our Pets Really Want to Travel With Us" asking the question if traveling with our pets makes sense at all. Do we do it for ourselves? Wouldn't it be better for our pets to leave them in their well-known environments? This got me thinking. I spent a night away from home the other week on a business trip for the first time since we have Viva. The anticipated state of panic didn't happen. Of course my wife takes excellent care of her. But both of us expected a different turn-out.

This leaves me with lots of things to think about. We travel regularly for our business. And I take the whole family with me as I think they would benefit more from being together, then from being apart. But I find myself changing my mind on this. At least with D.A.P. car travel became a little more pleasant. And bought me some time to give this more thought.
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