The Many, Many Problems with BSL

Nov 14, 2014 | Pet Guardians, Training

Piper at the Coast to Coast Bull Walk, celebrating Pit Bull Awareness Month

Piper at the Coast to Coast Bull Walk, celebrating Pit Bull Awareness Month

I recently had the pleasure of both attending and speaking at the Coast to Coast Bully Walk in Chesterton, IN. The walk is held every year, in various locations across the USA to celebrate Pit Bull Awareness Month. Both Jambo and I were kindly invited by Piper’s Page of Life but, unfortunately, Jambo could not attend. In my speech there, I focused on the importance of training your dog without force; improving the image of the “bullies”; why it is important to spay/neuter dogs; and why we should all fight Breed Specific Legislation (BSL). I also read out a statement on behalf of DDA Watch in the UK (an association which helps those affected by BSL.

This is the speech I delivered (with the help of Piper the pit bull):

I normally start my presentations by saying “Hello, I’m Louise and this is Jambo, the Staffie Bull Terrier Trick Dog.” Unfortunately, for reasons I will explain a little later, Jambo was unable to be here today, so Piper has very kindly agreed to stand for him.

I would like to say a very big thank you, on behalf of Jambo and me, to Piper’s mom, Laura, for the invitation to attend this year’s Coast to Coast Bully Walk. The objectives of the walk are to peacefully protest BSL and educate against the false consensus of this breed and promote responsible dog ownership by supporting positive and force-free dog obedience training, proper veterinary care and spaying/neutering. These are all subjects close to my heart.

Jambo has won many accolades yet is still classified as a "Dangerous Dog"

Jambo has won many accolades yet is still classified as a “Dangerous Dog”

My focus is not just on the importance of training your dog without force, fear, pain or intimidation, but also on the fact that how we train our dogs affects, not only the way in which they behave, but also the way in which people view them. If our “bullies” are the same as all other dogs, then why would we need to train them in a different way?

I constantly see articles perpetuating the myth that our gorgeous bullies need to be “owned” by people with “experience of these breeds” and can only be trained by putting prongs collars or shock collars around their necks. All animals (and therefore ALL dogs) can be trained using positive reinforcement so why on earth would pit bull type dogs be an exception? That’s because they AREN’T! The more people spread this nonsense, the more credence they give to the general public, to the media and to government officials, that our dogs are different and should therefore be legislated against. Scientific research has shown that the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a two- to three-year-old child. Correct me if I am wrong but I don’t think anyone would think it acceptable to teach a toddler by shocking them. Any dog, of any breed, can be taught using positive reinforcement.

Jambo and I encourage spaying/neutering of mature dogs. In fact, Jambo is one of the “faces” of StubbyDog’s Spay/Neuter Campaign. Millions of dogs are killed every year in shelters, many of them pit bull type dogs. Irresponsible breeding and greed directly contribute to their deaths. Dogs are sold as commodities. They are mistreated, fought and overbred, with no regard to their welfare. We need to convince more people to spay/neuter their mature dogs and help them to understand, that breeding their dogs is not an acceptable way of supplementing their income.

The problem with BSL is that it targets dogs based on their looks alone, without taking into account a dog’s behavior. At its worst, BSL imposes total bans on certain breeds. Pit bull type dogs are normally at the top of the list and are seized and destroyed. Innocent family pets are removed from their homes and killed.

Because of his breed, Jambo has to be enclosed by walls at least 6.5ft. high or kept on a chain

Because of his breed, Jambo has to be enclosed by walls at least 6.5ft. high or kept on a chain

We would like to see safer communities around the world, but BSL is not the answer. We need laws that target irresponsible and sometimes abusive, owners. We need to educate everyone about the need to train their dogs without force; about the importance of properly socializing their dogs. We need to teach our children how to behave around dogs; how to treat them with love and respect. We need to educate people about canine body language. We need more animal welfare laws and we need to make all owners/guardians responsible for their dog’s actions, regardless of breed.

Another important point: BSL does not lower the incidence of dog bites. In fact, it makes targeted breeds more desirable to irresponsible and criminal owners. Our dogs are being abused daily but, instead of being seen as victims and therefore, protected, they are condemned both by society and the authorities.

As Gandhi is often quoted as saying: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Jambo and I actually live in Spain. In a way we are quite lucky as no breed is actually banned but Jambo was born into BSL and, despite all of his accomplishments and his training, from the minute he was born, he was classified by the authorities as a “Potentially Dangerous Dog.” BSL affects everything we can and cannot do. Jambo has to be kept on leash and muzzled when in public. We have to get an annual veterinary health report stating the inexistence of illnesses that could make him “especially dangerous.” He has a microchip – the number of which is registered as that of a potentially dangerous dog. He has to be enclosed by walls at least 6.5ft. high (or kept on a chain – which we would never do as life on a chain is no life at all) and put in a secure location should visitors come to our home. He cannot go near any area designated for children (playground, park, school). I have to have a Potentially Dangerous Dog handler’s license, a psychiatric report, no criminal record, a physical report stating I am able to “handle” him and public liability insurance. I cannot walk or transport more than one “dangerous dog” at a time. Fines for infractions are up to $145,000 and the authorities have the right to seize and destroy him if they see fit.

Staffie Jambo was not allowed to fly from Europe to the US because al dogs of his breed are officially  considered "dangerous"

Staffie Jambo was not allowed to fly from Europe to the US because all dogs of his breed are officially considered “dangerous”

The following breeds come under the BSL umbrella in Spain: American pit bull terrier; Staffordshire bull terrier; American Staffordshire terrier; Rottweiler; Dogo Argentino; Fila Brasileiro; Tosa Inu; Akita Inu. So, as you can see, although we are here today on a “Bully” Walk, BSL targets many breeds. Different regions also include other breeds. For example some areas include the Dobermans, others all Mastiff types and others the German shepherd. The fact that different regions include different breeds in their legislation shows just how absurd BSL is. How can a dog be classified as dangerous in one area but not dangerous five miles down the road? Legislation also includes any crosses of the above breeds and any dogs with the “right measurements” – width of chest, head, mouth, length of leg, weight; short hair… Did you hear that? Yes, short hair! Now you know why I have long hair, better to be safe than sorry!

The strange thing is, if we lived in the UK, Jambo would not be considered a “Dangerous Dog.” In the UK, four types in particular are identified by the 1991 Dangerous Dog Act (DDA): pit bull terrier, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino, Fila Brasileiro and any cross breed. The English Staffordshire bull terrier is not on the list! So there you go. Jambo is dangerous in Spain but not in the UK. However, to complicate matters further, dangerous dogs are classified by ‘type’, not by breed label. This means that whether a dog is prohibited under the DDA will depend on a judgment about his physical characteristics, his measurements… and whether they match the description of a prohibited ‘type’. So your Staffordshire bull terrier might not be so safe after all! Many of the seized dogs are destroyed. The lucky ones spend months in isolation away from their families before, hopefully, getting a court exemption.

But back to Jambo. Jambo got his first Dog Trick Title at just seven months old and, by 14 months old, already had seven Trick Dog Titles including “Expert” and “Guru.” He has rosettes, trophies and certificates for everything from Best of Breed, Best Dog, Obedience, Agility and Tricks. He has a silver star award in obedience. At only 16 months old Jambo achieved what no Staffordshire bull terrier had done before – he became a Trick Dog Champion! Please click on this link  to watch his Trick Dog Champion Video. His videos have been shown on Talent Hounds TV; he was featured as one of Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Success Stories; as I previously said, he is one of the faces of Stubby Dog Project’s Spay/Neuter Campaign; he was “Dog Of The Week” for Your Pit Bull and You; he was honored to be named “Dog Of The Year 2013” by In The Doghouse DTC, in recognition of all we had achieved and for his work as a Bully Breed Ambassador.

Despite all Jambo’s accomplishments, his training and his good character, he is still classified by the authorities as a “Potentially Dangerous Dog.” Which brings me back to why Jambo cannot be here to share some of his tricks with you.

Jambo got his first Dog Trick Title at just seven months old

Jambo got his first Dog Trick Title at just seven months old

When reserving our tickets to fly to the US, I contacted various airlines to enquire about bringing Jambo. Unfortunately, this was not to be. First of all, I wanted Jambo to travel in the cabin and not as cargo. It’s a long way and he is part of my family, not a suitcase! Some airlines do allow this but, well, it depends on the dog. Some airlines have a weight limit of 13 lbs. Jambo weighs 42 lbs. Others impose the restriction that the dog has to be crated (fair enough) but the crate has to fit under the seat in front. That would be another no, then. Some had a list of breeds they will not transport, even in the hold, including snub or pug-nosed dogs, American bulldogs, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers, Boston terriers, boxers…

The list was actually quite long so I won’t go over them all but, needless to say, the Staffordshire bull terrier was on it. One airline made it very clear that they would not accept any dog listed under the UK’s Dangerous Dogs Act. All made it clear that they would not transport “dangerous” animals. One of the reasons for the Coast to Coast Bully Walk is to “peacefully protest BSL!” So the final reason Jambo could not be here, despite all of his achievements and good character, is that he is classified as a potentially dangerous dog.

I now have a statement that I would like to read out on behalf of DDA Watch in the UK. Please click on this link to listen.

To end, I would like to read a quote from the political activist, author and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Wiesel: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”