Dangerous dog bill

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The Czech Republic is well-known for being a nation of dog-lovers, but over the past month there has been much debate over proposed Bill Number 805. This bill is meant to restrict and institutionalise the breeding of so-called "dangerous dogs," but would also affect the handling of all dogs. On the 22nd of January, a protest took place on Wencenslas Square where more than 41,000 signatures were collected in support of the so-called "One Meter Petition," the primary focus of which is to publicize what organizers call the "stupidity" of the bill. In this week's Talking Point, Pavla Navratilova looks at this proposed bill and the influence that dogs have on people's lives here in the Czech Republic.

Dogs are highly valued in the Czech Republic, and their worth can best be seen in their prevalence within art, literature, and folklore. One of the best known dogs of all time here in the Czech Republic would have to be that of popular Czech writer, poet and amateur photographer, Karel Capek.

"When it was born, it was a little white nothing that could fit in the palm of your hand. However, since it had a pair of black ears it could be recognized as a dog. And since she was female, I decided to name her Dasenka."

Capek immortalized his puppy Dasenka in a children's book of the same title. Not only did this book include his writings, drawings, and photographs of his dog, but he even included some fairy tales written specifically for Dasenka.

"Now if you sit quietly Dasenka, and don't move, I'll tell you a story about why terriers dig holes in the ground. People claim that they are looking for mice. They're not looking for mice. You never seen a mouse in your life. And besides, you little rascal, you'd chase them away. And yet you still dig...do you know why you dig? You don't, do you? Well, I'll tell you."

But do all Czechs share Capek's intense love of mankind's four legged friends? I took to the streets to find out.

Late last year, Bill 805 was proposed by opposition Freedom Union MP, Zdenek Korista. One of the aims of the bill is to restrict the breeding and registration of certain breeds of dogs considered "dangerous," such as Rottweilers, Dobermans and Bull Terriers. It also imposes other restrictions for all dogs, such as the use of a one-meter lease and muzzle at all times in public. This proposal has met with widespread public criticism. On January 10th of this year, the bill was rejected by the Social Democrat government. However, it will still be discussed in parliament in the near future.

This worries many dog owners, breeders, and veterinarians throughout the country. They claim that the bill, as put forth by Korista, is both poorly researched, poorly constructed, and unrealistic. I spoke with vet Karel Daniel, who expressed various concerns towards the bill. The consequences of passing such a law can be seen in Britain, where a similar law was introduced in the early 1990s. One of the protestors at last week's rally was the Chairman of England's Royal Parks Dog Owners Association, David Fellowes, who was an opponent of the "dangerous dogs' act within his own country. I asked him why he is involved in protesting against this Czech proposal: The "One Meter Petition" is named after the clause in the bill that would restrict movement of dogs to a one-meter leash, and to wearing a muzzle in public. This is particularly problematic, as it apparently affects the animal's welfare; a point that has been agreed upon by both dog-lovers and others alike. The organizers say they won't stop their awareness campaign until the proposed bill is dropped and re-written. Speaking with people at last week's rally, various reasons were given for their concern at this proposed bill. So for the time being, this remains a heated debate. But one thing is certain, no dog owner in this country lacks stories to tell about their dogs. So we'll return to the realm of literature where, like every other dog owner, Karel Capek has endless tales of his beloved Dasenka.

"The day Dasenka celebrated the tenth day of her life, she made a great accomplishment: when she woke up in the morning, she saw to her dismay that she could see! For the time being, she opened only one of her eyes, but even with one eye, so to speak, she made a large step into the world! It was such a surprise to her that she squeaked; and that memorable squeak was the beginning of dog talk, which is normally called barking. Today Dasenka not only talks, but she also knows how to swear and sound threatening! But the sound she made that day was little more than a squeak, much like the sound a knife makes when dragged along a plate."

Author: Pavla Navrátilová
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