After more than a year of hard work, we’re finally able to announce a big win against Breed Specific Legislation in the state of New South Wales.
Dogs NSW is the state member body for the Australian National Kennel Council (ANKC). They’re basically responsible for registering breeders and pedigree dogs in NSW, and other activities like dog sports. There are many good things about the organisation. I’ve always had one huge issue though – its quiet involvement in Breed Specific Legislation (BSL).
You see, Dogs NSW got involved with BSL back in 2005 when the current legislation came in to effect. They negotiated with the State Government for their members to be ‘Breed Assessors’. So, when a Council tries to declare your dog to be a ‘Pit Bull’, your only right of appeal is to have someone from Dogs NSW look at your dog and say what breed mix they think it is.
Without a doubt, there’s some benefits to this process compared to BSL in other states. In my experience, it’s rare for a breed assessor to say that a dog is a purebred ‘Pit Bull’, which would automatically mean life in a cage or death. Dogs are either declared as random mixed breeds, or a ‘Pit Bull cross’, which allows them to go on to temperament test. If they pass, they get to live their life like any other dog.
Nonetheless, it is still BSL, and Dogs NSW profits from it. The cost for a breed assessment is $82.50 (plus travel). Half of this goes to the assessor, and the other half goes to Dogs NSW. Over 1500 breed assessments have been performed in NSW, according to information I requested from the Office of Local Government. This means BSL has earned Dogs NSW tens of thousands of dollars over the years!
That never sat right with me. But there was a much bigger issue…
Apparently not profiting enough already, Dogs NSW launched a ‘Course in Canine Breed Identification’, and had it nationally accredited. The course was marketed almost exclusively to Council officers. It promised to teach them to identify dog breeds and mixes, particularly ‘Pit Bull’ dogs.
Check out these screenshots from the Dogs NSW website and flyers that were regularly sent to Council officers to promote the course, which costs $650 per person. In particular, note this clear support for BSL: “Dogs NSW is a strong supporter of the NSW Government changes to the Companion Animals Act. We believe in responsible dog ownership and we recognise that proper breed identification is an essential part of the current legislation”.
On top of this, when I contacted Wollondilly Council in 2015 over the death of Ruby, they sent me a copy of formal Council procedures. These said any American Staffy without pedigree papers would be targeted by Council officers as a potential ‘Pit Bull’. I asked why, and was told that this was what was recommended by Dogs NSW when staff had attended their course. Indeed, when one of Team Dog’s members attended the course many years ago, she was told that any American Staffy without pedigree papers was a ‘Pit Bull’ cross. Read more about this case and Dogs NSW’s response to our questioning here.
Council officers from Victoria were flying up to NSW to do this course, and presenting it in court as ‘evidence’ that they could identify a ‘Pit Bull’. The penalty for being a ‘Pit Bull’ dog in Victoria at the time was death. This course directly impacted on the lives of these dogs and their families.
Council officers in NSW were being fed the utterly false information that it is possible to identify the breed/s in a dog of unknown heritage by appearance. They were being empowered to pursue innocent dogs based on their new-found ‘knowledge’.
In 2015, I noticed that the course’s five-year accreditation would be expiring at the end of the year. Dogs NSW would have to reapply, and this was my best chance of challenging the course accreditation.
I put hours in to writing a well-resourced and evidenced complaint to the Australian Skills and Quality Authority (ASQA). I covered that the course had been disproved by science, plus the huge conflict of interest when Dogs NSW takes a cut of each dog they teach a Council officer to target. You can read the full submission here.
To ASQA’s credit, they did an incredibly thorough investigation. In April 2016 they concluded that the course should not be re-accredited:
The application to renew accreditation of the Course in Canine Breed Identification could not be granted under the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011 by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) on the basis that the course does not meet the requirements for accreditation in that it does not comply with the Standards for VET Accredited Courses 2012 and the Australian Qualifications Framework.
However, Dogs NSW are clearly very invested in running this course and the financial benefits it provides them. Over the next eight months, they went through every appeals process possible.
In January, the case was resolved, with a partial success. The ASQA representative told me that the course was being reinstated, however:
So, certainly a partial success. Dogs NSW can no longer give Council officers the false confidence that they can identify a ‘Pit Bull’ dog just by looking at it. They can no longer assert that any American Staffy without papers is a ‘Pit Bull’ dog. Council officers can no longer state that they have been taught how to identify a ‘Pit Bull’ dog. Unfortunately, Dogs NSW are still able to teach on visually identifying dog breeds and mixes, which has been completely disproven by study after study.
Overall, I’m happy with this result. It’s a big achievement, and Dogs NSW are now on notice that the community will not tolerate their support for this legislation.