Outcry over new Victoria dog laws

Veterinary groups have been highly critical of Victorian laws which led to two dogs being euthanased.

The dogs, named Bear and Kooda, were destroyed in June under Victoria’s new dangerous dog laws following a legal battle to save them.

The dogs had not engaged in antisocial behaviour, but were put down after an officer from Moira Shire Council identified them as pitbull crosses, despite the owners’ claim that they were bred from a Staffordshire-ridgeback cross and a bull mastiff cross American bulldog.

Victoria toughened its dog laws following the fatal mauling of a toddler last year.

The legislation has procedures for councils on how to identify pitbulls based on indicators such as build and head profile.

The RSPCA, AVA and ASAVA have expressed concerns that new laws could punish responsible dog owners, who follow the law and have their pit bull or pit bull crosses registered, and let irresponsible owners slip under the radar.
President of the ASAVA, West Australian vet David Neck, said he supports a “deed not breed” approach.

“Nominating specific breeds and the breed specific focus is comparitively very easy to draft in to legislation, but it is very difficult to act on. The AVA has certainly said for quite some time that such policy is expensive, proven to be ineffective overseas, and you can run in to all sorts of problems when you try to enforce it,” he said.

Neck said the AVA is preparing a national model for dangerous dog regulations based on policy options from around the world.

He theoretically supports the Calgary Model, which punishes behaviour and not breed, despite greater difficulties in drafting it in to legislation.

“It is a model that doesn’t just come up with a list of breeds and draw a line through them. It’s like saying to somebody who is a good and law-abiding person, ‘your family are a bunch of criminals, and so we are just going to lock you up by association’.”

Neck added that there is too great a focus on dog attacks, which is not necessarily where antisocial dog behaviour begins and ends.

“It is important for dogs to be responsible owners, and at the first sign of any kind of trouble, to pick up on it early, to get dogs socialised from early ages and to seek out the help of a behaviourist,” he said.

“Vets should let dog owners know that education is the cornerstone, and it is better than laws as it is the first line of defense. Owners who see behaviourists, for example, will be educated along with their animal, and better understand dog behaviour themselves, and that can only be a good thing.”

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