Eileen Heerdegen

eheerdegen@aol.com

zur - älteren - deutschen Fassung

News Release

On the Hysteria Against Canines in Germany:

Dead Dogs Walking ...

The container outside the "shelter" was filled with small and frail canine bodies. It was filled: legs and heads jutting out. It was a scene in front of the animal "shelter" in Mönchengladbach, Germany. Clotting blood had run out of one dogs nose, the eyes were bulging out of its skull, as if the dog had been strangled.

These animals were killed shortly after German states had passed new laws severely restricting the lives of dozens of canine breeds and their owners. Laws that are quite probably the most restrictive in the world. These acts will mean the death of ten thousands of innocent dogs, whose only "crime" is to be born as one of the banned breeds (or even cross-breeds). These laws are having their effect, unspeakable horror and sorrow for dogs and owners.

What Happened? After six year old "Volkan" was killed by two so-called fighting-dogs in Hamburg, Germany, on June 26th, the country, led by the immediate and intemperate comments of national leaders including Prime Minister Schroeder, turned into a madhouse. Ortwin Runde, mayor of Hamburg, said, "We aim to kill as many dogs as possible." Hamburg’s authorities installed a telephone-hotline for "good citizens" to denounce fighting-dog-owners. The hotline broke down from overuse in the first day. Everybody seemed to see every dog as a "fighting-dog." Police found that even puppies were being reported. Politicians and journalist are now using terms that remind one of Germany’s darkest past. Holger Christier, chairman of the Social Democrats (SPD) in Hamburg’s paliament, says the town "will be fighting-dog-free by November." We remember that, during the Third Reich, the Nazis called for "Jew-free" towns. It is now appalling to hear even the "liberal" Social Democrats using such terms.

These are the facts so far: At least 95% of the dogs whose extermination is planned, are gentle individuals, that have not been accused of attacking anyone. Under existing laws, individual dogs proven to be dangerous have always been confined or euthanized. But the media now are slandering entire breeds as "killer-dogs", "bloodthirsty beasts" or "killing machines". "Vigilante" justice is announced in case the new laws are not be put in action quickly: "BZ" (Berlin newspaper): "People of Berlin are fed up with wash-out-authorities chickening out for some curs. They demand authorities like Hamburg or Munich saving them firmly from aggressive Biters. Otherwise they’ll take charge on it themselves."

Mobs and thugs are already at work: A purebred Dogue de Bordeaux was doused with fuel and set on fire, it seems that a six month Rottweiler was tortured and killed the same way. A three months old Rhodesian Ridgeback died excruciatingly by poison, people had put on a walking trail in Kiel. In Lübeck some dog-owners found pieces of saussage filled with razor-blades. In Berlin a group of men injured a Pitbull seriously by kicking the totally defenceless animal, the dog had been tied up and was wearing a muzzle. Near Hannover a drunken man threatened to shoot a Bullterrier, pointing a gun at dog and owner. All over Germany dogs are kicked by passers-by and slandered as bloody beasts. This is even happening to small dogs and puppies of any breed.

Without demonstrable provocation, some animals have already been shot by the police. In several cases, dogs were shot because they were trying to protect their households, growling at police as they entered an apartment or growling at attackers in neighborhoods

And hatred doesn’t stop with attacks on only the dogs. Dog-owners living in flats are threatened by neighbours, their dogs are tormented and injured by some in stairways when dogs are being taken outside for walks. A young man from Hamburg was assaulted by three thugs with an iron bar and wooden boards, and his Staffordshire Terrier suffered from a deep flesh wound. In the same city, a young girl going for a walk with her Golden Retriever was pelted with stones, even the daughter of a well-known politician was hit in the face while strolling with her Bullterrier through the park. Actually the majority of the dog owning victims of assaults and verbal attacks seem to be girls and women. Elderly ladies with small companion dogs are being abused the same way as young girls with Huskies or women with Labradors. They are insulted as "sluts" and "hookers" who should be done away with by poison gas ("Euch sollte man vergasen"). Many owners of the particulary defamed Pitbulls and Staffordshires only dare to go out in heavy rain or in the early hours of the morning.

Not only is the odd "man on the street" perpetrating this madness. Official Germany and its media also seem to be out of control. German states are trying to trump each other, it seems, vying to have the most restrictive dog laws. In the past month, up to forty-two breeds of dogs, about one-third the number of purebred canine breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, are now defined as "fighting-dogs" and forced to wear muzzles.

In the past month, the long-buried spectre of German xenophobia has again reared its head. Germany’s "national dog", the German Shepherd, though it is the breed most commonly associated with attacks on humans in Germany, is only being restricted with leash-force (in town-centers) in the state of northrhine-westfalia, together with all other dogs above a height of 40 centimetres (even whippets). Doberman and Rottweiler breeds are now also defined as fighting-dogs in two states. Breeds of foreign origin, on the other hand, are the ones most commonly being restricted or to be euthanized and banned altogether. Breeds of English, American, French, Spanish, Italian, Asian and East-European origin are the ones at risk. State and local taxes for so-called "fighting-dogs" have increased nearly tenfold (ex post facto), and are now amount to about as much as the monthly income of a lower middle class worker (between 1200 and 1800 Marks).

State restrictions being enacted are painfully reminiscent of the laws passed in the thirties and forties in Germany. Owners of so-called "fighting-dogs"are being forced to put up large neon-coloured signs at their entrances announcing that a "fighting dog" or "Kampfhund" lives there. At the doors of apartments, households with dogs are branded with special-coloured tags. So-called "fighting-dogs" are being banned in shopping-centers, as well. People with banned dogs are not transported by German Rail, and in Hamburg they are even not allowed to use regional trains, buses, harbour ferries. This means that, a family without a private car can take no family holiday, no Sunday trips, no weekend family visits. If their veterinary clinic is more than a walking distance away, these owners can’t even take the dog to the vet.

Some dog owners who refuse to give away their animals or have them euthanized may soon be left homeless. Some apartment complexes have already given notices to dog owners to move out, and most tenants associations are on the side of the owners, not the renters. The evictions orders will stand even if the dogs of the owners in question have consistently behaved themselves.

The litany of ostracism goes on. Owners of dogs throughout the country are being damned by media and politicians; they are labelled "unscrupulous" and "antisocial elements." Noted psychologists are making facile and wholesale "tele-diagnoses," referring the "abnormally aggressive tendencies" of owners of large breed dogs. All the while, on the other hand, children of dog-owning families are traumatized with the dread of losing their best friends. Some dog owners even admit to thoughts of suicide.

It’s still an open question where one might, if forced, leave the forbidden animals. Animal shelter homes have been and are crowded. Hamburg is considering donating all the dogs it collects to a former animal experiment facility of the local University. To house collected individuals of banned breeds, some states are even considering the contruction of special "camps."

The killing of healthy animals "without rational reason" is contrary to German law. "Euthanasia" has been permitted only in cases of an animal’s severe disease or proven aggressiveness. In comparison with other nations, German animal shelters have good reputations, good facilities and are even well financed. Germans as a group always have donated substantial amounts of money to support private animal shelter organisations and placement services to prevent animals from being put to death. But, in Germany, this historic and kindly attitude toward dogs appears, at least in the past month, to have radically changed. "Dogs and other things" These words are from the governments bill for abrogation of parts of the animal shelter act and may lead to the new direction. According to Otto Schily, federal minister of the interior, the legislative body of the European Community will soon be asked to follow the German lead and ban dozens of breeds from the Continent. British purebred dog owners are marshalling their defences in preparation for initiatives in their country.

Meanwhile, German dog-owners, their families, and friends are in deep despair as a result of the witch-hunt. Germany has one of the lowest numbers of dogs in households of any country in Europe. In fact, Germany hasn’t a particularly exceptional problem with so-called fighting-dogs at all. Every year there are from one to four persons killed by dogs nationwide, but more than 7,000 are killed in traffic-accidents. Germany is one of the last countries in Europe without speed-limit on motorways. Germany has a lot of social problems: High crime and a relatively large number of persons with records of violent crimes. There is an high rate of unemployment, and many live their lives in what might be called social isolation. Apartment rents take a large portion of a family’s monthly income. The gap between poor and rich is increasing. Pensions are insecure. To top all this off is a latent xenophobia.

Problems with unsocialized animals trained for aggression and criminals who organize illegal dog fights exist here in Germany as they do throughout the world. Some criminals abuse dogs and train them to threaten, injure or even kill people. The dog that killed little "Volkan" had itself attacked humans previously, and it‘s owner had been accused of many crimes. This dog should have been seized long ago. Even according to laws already on the books pertaining to dogs, authorities had the duty to take action. Hamburg’s authorities took no action in several instances to protect the public and only half-hearted action in other cases in which these dogs attacked. Now, due to incompetent law enforcement, tens of thousands of innocent people and innocent dogs shall pay for these neglections.

It appears to be quite easy to channel frustration and anger endemic in a great part of German society away from real causes toward scapegoats. Just over fifty years after the end of second World War people are daring again to refer to "life unworthy of life". Again they dare wholesale to criminalize, persecute, and stigmatize groups of persons innocent of any crime. As innocents are persecuted, as justice turns to perpetrate wrong, it may no longer be "only" a question of dog owners and their companions. Let’s remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, surviver of concentration-camp:

"In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Catholic. Then they came for me – and by that time there was nobody left to speak up."

We still have the opportunity to speak up. There is still time enough to speak up for innocent dogs and owners. There is still time enough for good people of other countries to help through contacts with German authorities. Finally, there is still time to help Germany and its Federal Republic remember the democratic principles upon which it was founded.

© Eileen Heerdegen, Hamburg, Germany

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