Dangerous dogs free to roam in Czech Republic

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A Staffordshire terrier bit off and swallowed his German owner's nose on Saturday in the latest of a spate of attacks that has revived the debate on dangerous breeds in the country. Less than a week ago, two pit bull terriers mauled a six-year-old boy to death in Hamburg, forcing the German government to impose a ban on the breeding of all dangerous dogs. But across the border in the Czech Republic, there is little legislation to deal with the problem, a situation some believe could be a tragedy waiting to happen. Rob Cameron has this report:

Legislation on aggressive dogs varies throughout Europe. In Germany the breeding of dangerous dogs has now been completely banned. In Holland a 1992 law demands that all pit bulls must be castrated, in Great Britain there are 17 very strict laws relating to dog ownership and Hungary banned pit bulls four years ago. The Czech Republic, though, has done nothing at all to curb the breeding of dangerous or aggressive dogs. Following a heated debate in 1996, during which members of parliament failed to agree on what breeds would be labeled dangerous, the lower house settled on a compromise. It approved a law banning the training of any breed of dog for fighting.

There have been several cases of children being mauled by dogs in recent years, the most serious of which happened in the town of Ceska Lipa a few weeks ago. A ten-year-old boy was attacked by a German shepherd and a Rottweiler, leaving him with serious leg injuries. In all the cases in question the owner was held responsible, but no move was made to introduce tougher legislation. "Everything depends on how a dog is trained - you can have an aggressive terrier and a passive Alsatian," one vet says. He believes that the priority is not in implementing tougher legislation but applying existing laws - such as keeping all dogs on a muzzle and leash in public.

Not everyone agrees. Libor Rehak, who works in the game-keeping department of the Agriculture Ministry, points out that many people intentionally train their dogs to be aggressive - because they need good watchdogs and bodyguards. If someone has two weapons and two pit bulls - what do you think he has them for? Those dogs are basically weapons and they should be treated as such by the law, Rehak says. They may escape and then they'll do a lot more damage than an angry terrier in a park.

A lot of people would agree, but aside from a number of isolated petitions against a few irresponsible dog owners, there is little public pressure on parliament to change the status quo. It's sad to say, but opponents of dangerous dogs will probably have to wait for a child to be killed in the Czech Republic before people are roused to action.