German leaders "on trial" over dangerous dog law

The deadly aftermath of an attack in Hamburg last year: The laws in Germany have since been tighten Keystone Archive

The Swiss animal rights group, the Franz Weber Foundation, has staged a symbolic trial in Geneva to highlight what it sees as the unfairness and arbitrary nature of Germany's law on dangerous dogs, the most stringent in Europe.

This content was published on May 7, 2001 - 13:45

Animal rights groups and dog breeders' organisations from all over Europe attended the self-styled International Court of Justice for Animal Rights, created by the veteran Swiss campaigner, Franz Weber.

Those in the dock, figuratively but not physically, included the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, the federal president, Johannes Rau, and 44 other officials.

"This court has no legal authority, but it has enormous moral authority," says Judith Weber, Weber's wife and vice-president of his foundation.

Following a number of attacks on people by dogs, the German government introduced tough new legislation last year under which people are not allowed to buy or exchange animals from 16 listed breeds.

These include pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and Tosa Isu. The measures vary from state to state, but, in general, all existing animals have to be registered, neutered, muzzled and leashed in public and undergo a personality test.

Less stringent restrictions also apply to several other breeds such as Dobermans, Mastiffs, Pyrenean Mountain Dogs, Briards and Rottweilers. Opponents point out that German Shepherds, or Alsatians, are not included, despite the fact they are responsible for 65 per cent of attacks.

The German government has been lobbying its European partners to implement an EU-wide ban on fighting dogs. A number of countries are considering introducing such measures. Many dog breeders fear this could lead to the extinction of some breeds.

"This is race discrimination. Dogs are being destroyed simply because they belong to a particular breed," says Judith Weber.

"Most of these dogs are innocent, they have never done any harm to anyone. They are beloved family pets. We are not talking about ferocious beasts," she told swissinfo.

The Franz Weber Foundation, which is based in Montreux, is also unhappy about the way in which the measures are being implemented. It says a number of raids have been carried out after tip-offs from neighbours, animals have been shot dead in the family home. It is also concerned about that there now exists a state of near-hysteria surrounding the issue of dangerous dogs.

Judith Weber says the situation in Switzerland is not comparable to Germany. There is no law governing dangerous dogs, although the authorities are considering a number of measures, including the suitability of owners to look after such animals.

"Of course, there have been incidents. But when they occur, it is always the fault of the owner, not the dog" she says.

Ever since 1979, Franz Weber, 74, has chaired his International Court of Justice for Animal Rights, which tries those accused of crimes against animals.

In previous years, "crimes" heard by the court have included the mass slaughter of migratory birds, the live transportation of farm animals, ivory trafficking, the culling of baby seals in Canada and bullfighting in Spain.

by Roy Probert

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