Thursday, September 8, 2011

Victorian vets fight pit bull crackdown

By Pia Akerman, from The Australian

THE peak vet association has warned that its members will face pressure from dog owners under laws designed to crack down on pit bull terriers following an attack that killed a four-year-old girl.

The death of Ayen Chol, who was savaged by a neighbour's pit bull cross at home last month as she clung to her mother, has spurred the Baillieu government to bring forward regulations requiring all pit bulls to be registered by the end of this month.

Unregistered dogs can be immediately seized and destroyed.

The legislation provides visual guidelines identifying pit bull features. Any dog meeting that description will be considered a pit bull unless the owner has a certificate identifying its breed.

Australian Veterinary Association Victorian president Susan Maastricht said it was difficult to conclusively identify breeds by appearance, and vets could face pressure from clients to certify dogs as non-pit bulls when the breed was unclear.

Suburban councils and stray-dog homes say some owners are voluntarily handing pit bull crosses to be euthanased. And Hume Council, in Melbourne's northern suburbs, has caught and destroyed four pit bull-type dogs found on the streets in the past week, sparking fears that owners have decided to abandon dogs rather than have them registered.

The association is campaigning against the laws, arguing that targeting specific breeds was unlikely to reduce the risk of attack.

Melbourne vet and former AVA state president Bill Harkin said the government's criteria for identifying pit bulls could also apply to other breeds, leaving vets vulnerable to lawsuits if dogs certified as non-pit bulls attacked someone.

"I'm sure the government wouldn't indemnify us in subsequent claims, and our professional indemnity insurance won't cover us for those sorts of amounts that could occur if a child was badly injured or killed," he said.

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