What sort of animal bylaw will we get?
An article recently published in the Cape Argus described proposals for an alarming and draconian new animal bylaw in Cape Town, which would amongst other things give the city the right to impound dogs which bark excessively on seven days notice, and have them destroyed. It also raised thorny issues such as dangerous dog legislation, and penalties for using attack dogs. Unsurprisingly, the article caused widespread concern and fury amongst animal lovers for a variety of reasons.
It said that there would be a workshop on 26 September at which stakeholders would be able to give presentations, but did not clarify what further participation procedures there would be, only that there would be some further public participation.
The only stakeholders mentioned at this stage were the SPCA and the Carthorse Protection Agency. Where, one wonders, is the Kennel Union of South Africa? Where is the South African Veterinary Association? Where are the representatives of the South African Board of Companion Animal Professionals? Where are representatives of breed and working dog clubs, especially those involved in training for protection sports? Where are the representatives of the guardian breed clubs – Dobermanns, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, Belgian Shepherds Malinois and many others? Where are representatives of the SAPS Dog Unit, who are perhaps best qualified to give input on whether an animal is fit to be used for personal protection or not?
It failed to address issues such as:
- while excessive barking can constitute a severe nuisance, barking is natural behaviour for dogs and expecting to be able to legislate severely limited barking in suburban areas with a high dog population is unreasonable
- excessive barking tends to occur communally. If the yappy Maltese on one side of the fence sets off the three Great Danes on the other side, it is the Danes who will be heard (and removed under the proposed legislation), but which dog is the "problem"?
- dog ownership is extremely therapeutic for people. (See "The Human-Animal Interaction Movement in South Africa" on this page.) For many people, a dog is a beloved family member, and removing the animal and destroying it for barking is likely to be as traumatic and devastating to the owner as removing a child and executing it for excessive shouting and screaming
- there are no dangerous breeds, only dangerous individuals, although some breed profiles tend to produce more aggressive specimens than others. Any legislation in this regard needs to be developed in consultation with canine aggression experts.
- in a country where crime is rife and illegal gun ownership out of control, a properly trained personal protection dog (a creature which is several orders of magnitude removed from an unpredictably aggressive backyard menace) is a very viable option for self-defence, especially for women (and a few dogs like this allowed to be walked on Table Mountain would solve the mugging problem in a New York second – I’ve already had this suggested to me by someone who does nature guiding!).
- while uncontrolled breeding and ownership of poorly cared for animals needs to be combated vigorously, at the same time programs which expose children at risk to animals and increse their sensitivity to living creatures are a vital component of the fight against crime. Gangsters initiate children as young as 10 years old by making them cut the legs off living dogs with pangas, so that later on they will be able to do this to a human being (source: NICRO). Programs which give these children the opportunity to interact with and even train animals are thus a valuable inoculation against later violent crime, and should be one of the focal points of animal work in poorer communities
In short, the article described a proposed bylaw which appears short-sighted, confused and likely to cause more problems than it solves.
Whatever the eventual form the law takes, it’s important for animal lovers to get involved in the process and give their input. You can start by signing our petition here (this will automatically add you to a mailing list so you can stay up to date with developments).
On speaking to the chairman of the Safety and Security portfolio, Mr J P Smith, an animal lover himself, it transpired that he felt the article in the Argus was sensationalist and inaccurate, and he told me that there would be a long and detailed public participation process before the bylaw eventually came into effect in about a year’s time. He also stated his view, very reasonably, on the petition as follows:
"Your petition is unnecessary at this stage – it is premature. We do not even have a first draft of the animal by-law yet and it will be at least a year before we do (i.e. Sep 2008) – there will be at least 5 months of public input taken. What we do have is the existing 10 different by-laws applicable to different parts of the City (prescribing different offences and penalties in each), all of them already dealing with the things you express concern about, just rearely enforced. Much of this could be dumped in the new by-law depending on the input during the public participation. The by-law would not just involve dogs, but deal with humane treatment of working animals such as cart horses (hence the involvement of the Cart Horse Association and others). Responsible organisations that have made contact with me, have been invited to attend the workshop or make a submission. Please do not raise undue panic at this stage as it will confuse the issues and spread partial information and prevent us from having a meaningful discussion about the proposed by-law which would make it possible to empower animal rights groups and would serve your interests if you harnessed the process properly. The workshop is a purely internal Council meeting between 3 different committees to get the ball rolling on the by-law drafting process. At least Cape Town is informing you about this timeously and inviting participation, unlike Johannesburg that simply steamrollered their by-law through. Please engage us responsibly as well. E-mail me any submissions that you want made at the workshop or contact me during office hours on: 021 – 487 2001"
This is fair enough, and bodes well for a well-constructed and equitable piece of legislation. But it doesn’t mean that we as members of the animal-loving community can rest on our laurels and leave the process up to council. It is our city, and our law, and we will get the law we deserve, so let’s ensure that we get involved and stay involved, for our own sakes and for those of our animals, who need us to speak for them.
Sign the petition here.
We’ll publish progress as and when we learn about it, email signatories on important issues, and also look at developing some tentative solutions like community anti-barking behavioural protocols.