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Fear Forced on All sides

The new laws against dangerous dogs bring chaos: every State has its own rules, the animal homes overflow, vets refuse to cooperate. In the meantime the first law suits against the Constitution threaten. It is dog haters against dog lovers.
The new laws against dangerous dogs bring chaos: every State has its own rules, the animal homes overflow, vets refuse to cooperate. In the meantime the first law suits against the Constitution threaten. It is dog haters against dog lovers.

At present anyone can be the object of anger: in Mülheim, three youths harassed a woman with a German Shepherd, surrounded her and jostled her. “You need a thump in the gob”, jeered one of the dog-haters. Christa Ufermann could not see her attackers, she is blind.

In the Veddel district of Hamburg four men were having a go at one another with lengths of wood, iron bars and knives. The fight started over whether the muzzle on an American Staffordshire Bull terrier was too loose.

Even celebrities aren’t spared: Esther Schweins, the actress, had stones thrown at her Bordeaux Mastiff in Berlin. Theatre producer Leander Haußmann had worse to put up with: five youths put the Berlin director in hospital because his little poodle cross Kalle yelped at them.

Since the end of June, when a pitbull killed six year old Volkan in the Wilhelmsburg district of Hamburg, peace for Germany’s dog lovers came to an end. It was not only the people’s rage - at everything that yelped and maybe bit - that made animal lovers insecure and annoyed: because of the deadly attack and under pressure, politicians hastily launched new edicts that were neither practicable nor legally valid. Dog owners like Gisela Düllberg, spokeswoman for the Berlin dog action, Berliner Schnauze, called the action a “collective forced irrational fear - dog phobia”. As a consequence several hundred men and women regularly demonstrate at the Brandenburg Gate, against the dog hostile mood of the country. In Essen, Düsseldorf, Gießen, Hanau and Kassel the friends of the four legged are on the streets. Whether it’s Anna, the sixteen year old daughter of Johannes Rau, the German President (“Man is the Beast”) or PDS man Gregor Gysi (“The German Shepherd can be a fighting dog too”) - everyone has something to say on the subject, the tone is often grim.

After several death threats against Bärbel Höhn, the North Rhine Westfalia green party environment minister - she is responsible for the dog laws in the State - the State lawyers have commenced investigations. Paul Spiegel, president of the Jews in Germany Central Advice Centre, wanted to take legal steps against those who had demonstrated in Düsseldorf with stars of David on their placards.

At present, lawyers are busy everywhere in the republic on account of the new regulations. In Lower Saxony and Hessen applications to contest the laws are already under way, in Brandenburg lawyers already have one writ prepared. In Hamburg and North Rhine Westfalia too, dog owners are fighting the new laws.

Seeing what had been done in Bavaria, which eight years ago tightened up regulations for fighting dogs, most States strengthened their dog laws straight after the deadly pitbull attack in Hamburg

The requirement that fighting dogs wear a muzzle and are leashed is common to all States. There their agreement ends, the regulations deviate considerably from one another. In North Rhine Westfalia it is forbidden to breed these “dangerous breeds”, in Hessen one can no longer sell them. In Hamburg you may no longer keep Pitbulls or Staffordshire Bull Terriers under any circumstances. But you are allowed to do the almost impossible - keep your dog if you show you are reliable and have a “reasonable interest”. There are marked differences between lists as to which dogs are subject to the regulations - North Rhine Westfalia goes furthest, there all dogs over 40 cm high or 20 kg weight must be on the lead in built up areas.

Trying to control or deter owners, the States have manifold conditions: in Brandenburg people who walk “dangerous dogs” must have a type of “driving licence” - to exclude pimps, people with previous convictions are barred from ownership. In Hessen and Lower Saxony, dogs must pass a temperament test (see below).

In Berlin dogs who have passed get a green tag, in Schleswig Holstein dogs who might bite must have a “G” tattooed in the ear.; Hamburg wants dogs from the fighting dog breeds to be micro-chipped; in North Rhine Westfalia, large dogs must put up with this. Police are to be issued with special reading devices in order to read the chips from a safe distance.

Most dog lovers are irritated by the unequal treatment in the hastily written laws. Anyone travelling from Hamburg to Ruhpolding for their holidays has to cross numerous dog borders - how are they supposed to know what applies to their dog? “No-one knows anything any more”, says German Animal Protection Organisation lawyer, Evelyn Ofensberger. Which breed needs a muzzle and how long a lead must be, is different in each State.

Even the Farming Minister in Lower Saxony is “not happy” about the new rules, but, says Werner Greifelt “when blood flows we have to deal with it”. Just a few days after the implementation of the new laws in Lower Saxony , the Wilhelmshaven lawyer, Clemens Nissen submitted an applications to contest the laws to the Upper Administrative Court in Lüneberg - on behalf of six fighting dog owners.

The plaintiffs object, in the first place, to the violation of their right to be treated equally with other German citizens. Fighting dog owners have to have their animals temperament tested, yet it is not demanded of people who keep ”lions, bears and wolves”. Next the law violates the protection of confidentiality and when you buy your “companion or guard” it is taken for granted that youare allowed to keep it for many years

In Hessen, Hans-Jürgen Habermann, legal adviser form Buding, has submitted an appeal to the Kassel Administrative Court. The Labrador cross of his client, failed the temperament test and should have been put down. Habermann wants to save him with a temporary order. Owner Ramona Bathaineh says “Never before have I seen Melody become aggressive. The tester went too far.”

In North Rhine Westfalia, Düsseldorf lawyer Walter Potthast, who has already successfully contested earlier dog laws in Baden-Württemberg and Saarland, points out a further weakness: the NRW regulation requiring specific breeds to wear a muzzle violates valid law. None of the named dogs like the herding Briard is naturally aggressive, now it is making things unnecessarily complicated for these friendly dogs. If his clients are taken to court because their dog is not wearing a muzzle “ then we will issue a writ.”

Not everywhere do politicians exhibit expertise in the discharge of the new rules. North Rhine Westfalia has declared the Liptak (Goralenhund) dangerous - the German Animal Protection Organisation remarked that this breed died out long ago. Many of the complaints about dogs, when looked at by legal experts have absolutely no chance - consolation to the dog owners that the Inner Ministers have been wasting time all year. States like Rheinland-Pfalz and Hamburg had, at first, vehemently opposed fighting dog laws and then, under pressure cobbled together regulations. “Not one of these laws are water tight”, says Markus Heintzen, Professor of the Institute for State and Administration Law at the University of Berlin.

The Inner Ministers round table discussion, in June 1999, on the problems with fighting dogs had highlighted every difficulty that is keeping the legal profession busy now. To formulate laws which conformed to the constitution, they decided, required a “viable justification for the inclusion of specific dog breeds” and a “severe comparative test”. The selection of appropriate dog breeds is difficult, because there is no “stated numerical material” about bite incidents.

Even now, says law lecturer Heintzen, “we cannot legally define what a fighting dog is”.

Because no State can issue new bite statistics in peace, we have used the only reliable figures available, from Deutschen Städtetag - they have been combined for the years 1991 to 1995 and can be interpreted according to your point of view. (see below). Fighting dog owners will use them to say that the GSD is most likely to bite, GSD owners will argue that because of the greater number of dogs there are actually fewer attacks.

In the last few days it was no way just classical fighting dogs that were biting in Gelsenkirchen a 34 year old man was seriously injured by a Rottweiler in Eisenhüttenstadt a postal worker was bitten in the arm, also by a Rottweiler in Bernkastel-Kues a waitress was hurt on the head and arm by two mastiff crosses in Meschede a 14 year old girl was bitten on both hands by a boxer-mastiff cross and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier

The passing of the dog regulations has troubled some dog owners to such an extent that their loved one is exterminated without warning. Throughout the country, dogs homes are full to bursting with dogs handed in, in Cuxhaven the home has received 45% more dogs since June than usual. In Pirmasens und Lübbecke there is a waiting list for owners wanting to give up their dog. The cages in Nürnberg and Stuttgart are also full.

Hürth near Cologne has obtained four large kennels for the town service depot, in Hamburg, cages for research animals in the university hospital in Eppendorf were monopolised, because the dogs home is too full. Now the authorities are looking for a spot in an industrial park to make a kennel village.

In response to the state invitation to decimate a few dog breeds, the Association of Animal Protection Organisations has ordered its members, the 709 animal protection organisations, who mostly run the dogs homes, not to cooperate. The directors will not take in any more dogs that are listed as dangerous but have previously done nothing. Overtaxed owners get rid of their dogs in other ways: they simply put them on the lead and leave them somewhere. In Hannover, last Wednesday, a three month old fighting dog puppy was discovered drowned in a drainage canal, with a stone on his rear legs. Vera Steder, president of the State Animal Protection Association: “The owners are desperate and don’t know what to do with their dogs.”

Towns like Hamburg have - unlike many other communities - at least prepared for the daily struggle on the streets. Four people were taken on to patrol Hamburg’s streets. Anyone walking a pitbull without a lead and muzzle must expect a high fine. In Berlin they have a equipped a new “intervention troop”, police with special firearms so that if the officers come across a marauding fighting dog, they can kill it without endangering the people.

What will happen to the impounded dogs, is still unclear. The mass slaughter did not happen, no state has yet ordered that fighting dogs be put to sleep. The States Veterinary Association has stood firm against the unreasonable demand that its members kill animals “in huge numbers and involuntarily”. The vets do not want “under any circumstances to help make the wishes come true” that the politicians desire.

At times the animal lovers’ protest is taken to the full. In Mönchengladbach a vet is to be prosecuted, because one day before the dog laws came into force, she killed 13 dogs in the Mönchengladbach dogs home: Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Staffordshires, a Husky. Mülheim lawyer Martin Brandstädter calls it a “mass extermination” - to make room for more dogs, which the lawyer considers to be a violation of the animal protection laws, because there must be “just grounds” for killing an animal. Even spiritual leaders feel called to protect the animals. In Dortmund on September 10, protestant parish priest Friedrich Laker will hold an “animal protection service” in Westfalenpark to offer prayers for the persecuted animals.


The temperament test

is mandatory in Hessen for 16 breeds that are considered dangerous. The Inner Minister has appointed 30 experts to conduct the test, mostly experts from the Verbandes für das Deutsche Hundewesen (German Dog Temperament Association). Vets with a “behaviour certificate” may do the tests too. Dogs which fail must be rehabilitated or put to sleep.

The dogs will be observed in everyday situations, including walking through a children’s playground. The tester will attempt to threaten the dog. As soon as the tester moves away the dog must start to calm down. In Berlin fighting dogs were checked using similar methods. They must, according to the regulation, have “nothing in excess of the natural amount of wish to fight, attack, or be aggressive to people or animals”. Lower Saxony has developed a temperament test in which response to visual or audible stimuli, also play and submissive behaviour will be checked. The owner must pay around 500 DM for the test.

© DER SPIEGEL 32/2000 Vervielfältigung nur mit Genehmigung des SPIEGEL-Verlags
Distribution only with permission from SPIEGEL-Publishing
Used with permission

Dog incident statistics

Registered dog incidents in Germany Source Deutsche Städetag. 93 towns, 1991 to 1995

  • German Shepherd 1956
  • Rottweiler 542
  • Pitbull 320
  • Dobermann 223
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier 169
  • Bull Terrier 169
  • Dachshund 160

Translated from “Kollektive Zwangneurose” Der Spiegel 32/2000 August 7, 2000