Since the beginning of earliest civilisation, man has relied on and surrounded himself with animals, for both assistance with labour and companionship. The phrase ‘man’s best friends’ is often used to described one of the most loyal and popular of these animals, the dog. Yet, in recent years, under the continued influence of rising dog attack numbers and societal pressure, new legislation has been introduced, collectively known as ‘Breed-Specific Legislation’. Under these new laws, certain breeds of animal are restricted or deemed dangerous, simply because of stereotypes associated with temperament and aggression. While many believe that this legislation is the most suitable response to a rapidly accelerating concern, further anaylsis into both the legal and social aspects of the issue reveal that ‘Breed-Specific Legislation’ may not be the most effective solution to the issues surrounding the ownership and domestication of restricted dog breeds. The relevant legal proceedings for this issue is directly related to the structural legislative balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of the collective. Under Australia’s current laws, our views on this matter lean more favourably towards the rights of the collective community, preferring to cater for society as a whole, rather than to a select number of individuals. Under the QLD Animal Management (Cats & Dog) Act 2008, a prohibited dog is defined as ‘A restricted dog is a dog of a breed prohibited from importation into Australia under the Customs Act 1901’, which is then further defined as the following breeds. The American Pit-Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentino (The Argentine Mastiff), the Fila Brasileiro, the Japanese Tosa and the Presa Canario. Under this Act, anyone who is found to be in possession of, or declared the owner of, a dog determined by an authorised official to be of a restricted breed, is liable to severe legal implications and as a matter of course the dog is destroyed. However, there are no laws or recommendations in place, at least none accessible to the public, to determine what legal implications should occur. Any consequences are determined by precedent and circumstance, and often require mandatory legal representation in order to be settled effectively. This is predominately due to the provision under the Customs Act 1901, stating that it is the responsibility of the local governments to dictate the prohibition of certain breeds (or cross breeds) of dogs in their jurisdictions. These decisions are at the discretion of each local government’s law, and higher hierarchical authorities, such as the state government, have limited powers to intervene with these laws. This ambiguity means that there is no definitive response to be taken under criminal law, in the event of a breach. The responsibility falls to the local government to conduct the judicial proceedings and execute the consequences. As such, it is impossible to fairly and equally apply the current laws, when major decisions are left to the discretion of many individual stakeholders. The current breed-specific legislation also proves a difficult task to enforce. While there are set guidelines in determining a dog’s breed based on physical characteristics, according to the Australian Veterinarian Association ‘it is not possible to precisely determine the breed of the types of dogs targeted by breed-specific legislation by appearance or by DNA analysis.’ As such, while an animal may contain genetic traces of restricted breeds, it can often be indistinguishable from other traits. In the same manner, however, animals completely free of restricted heritage traits may be mistaken for an illegal breed and destroyed, without reason. In the recent case, CHIVERS Vs Gold Coast City Council, 2010, the inability to definitively determine the difference between an American Staffordshire terrier and an American Pit Bull terrier, led to the erroneous decision stating they were ‘one and the same...
Bibliography: 2008 Act No. 74. (2008). Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, 142. QLD, Australia.
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