x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE's breed blacklist is all bark and no bite

Ban on certain dogs is not enforced as thousands of pet owners across the Emirates keep "banned" breeds.

Kristina Cocco says there is no evidence that her Rottweiler is aggressive.
Kristina Cocco says there is no evidence that her Rottweiler is aggressive.

DUBAI // When the municipality came calling at Kristina Cocco's villa, it almost cost her her beloved pet.

Neighbours had complained after seeing Ms Cocco's 18-month-old Rottweiler on the roof.

"It was obviously just an issue of the reputation of the breed," she said. "I didn't let them take him. There was no proof of him being aggressive."

Ms Cocco, a Russian-Italian national who works for Animal Action, is one of thousands of pet owners in the Emirates who own a breed of dog that is prohibited.

Last weekend, an American Staffordshire terrier - a breed that is also on the banned list - killed a toy poodle at the Dubai Pet Show.

While owners of the banned breeds insist that their pets are no more dangerous than other dogs, the dog-show attack has provoked questions about why the ban on certain breeds is not enforced.

"It's proven that these dogs are more dangerous than other dogs," said Nazanin Karimian, whose four-year-old poodle Pluto was killed at the show.

"If there's a restriction on them here, that should be followed."

In 2003, the federal Ministry of Environment and Water issued a list of banned breeds. Dubai Municipality has based its own list on that, and updated it as recently as 2009. It includes all pitbull terriers, the American Staffordshire terrier and wolves. The municipality has also banned three breeds - Rottweilers, Dobermans and Shar-Peis - from being kept in apartments.

Dogs on the first list cannot be kept as pets at all. However, because many animals were brought here before the law was enacted, thousands remain in the country.

Adil Eltayeb Elbadri, the senior veterinary health inspection officer at the municipality's animal welfare unit, said his department had written to the ministry for clarification on what to do with animals that were already here.

"We are not doing anything toward these dogs now," he said. "If there's no complaints, we are not going to take the dogs from inside the homes.

"However, if we do receive complaints we will confiscate the dogs."

The pitbull that killed the poodle has been confiscated and is being observed to see if it is aggressive. It could be put down or returned to its owner.

In 2008, the municipality issued a circular saying owners could register their dogs - even those on the banned list - with its veterinary services section "without fear of such dogs being unreasonably confiscated".

However, it did stress that dogs on the list should wear a "basket-type muzzle in public places".

Jackie Ratcliffe, the founder of the animal charity K9 Friends, said the list did not serve any purpose. "Why should they bring in a banned list and then not ban them?"

Veterinarians say they often see the blacklisted breeds.

"There are a lot of them here," said Giulio Russo, an associate vet at Nad Al Sheba Veterinary Hospital in Dubai. "Sometimes we see puppies too, so they might be bringing them in or breeding them here. We are not the Government so we cannot confiscate them. But we do try to let them know that their dog is on a banned list and inform them of the regulations there are."

Since the list was introduced in 2003, it has been updated several times. Before the update in 2009, it had featured 16 breeds, including the husky and the English bulldog.

Mr Elbadri said huskies were originally included in the list because the climate in the UAE was unsuitable for the long-haired breed.

Chiara Emiliani, a 16-year-old from Italy, said her family bought their husky, now two, from a breeder. "I saw it in the newspaper that huskies were banned, but I never took it seriously," she said. "Even when we were at the dog show, the police were stopping and saying how nice the dog was."

If enforcement is lax inside the country, the opposite is true when bringing the breeds in, said Janet Walker, a relocation account manager at Dubai Kennels and Cattery.

She said the rules on importing certain breeds have led some people to turn down UAE job offers.

"Some people are unwilling to come somewhere they can't bring their family pet," she said.

The original purpose of the list was to curb dogfighting. But Ms Cocco believes it perpetuates prejudices against certain breeds.

"As soon as people see the dog on the list they immediately think that this is a dangerous breed and they start reporting people all over the place."

She said the reaction to the pitbull attack at the Dubai Pet Show was largely because of the breed. "If it was a poodle attacking another poodle, it wouldn't have been viewed as important," she said.

Sometimes fears about the breed have had harsh consequences. Andrew Banoub, 26, was forced to have his pet pitbull put down in his native Australia several years ago because it jumped a fence into a neighbour's back garden.

"He was a good loving dog, he never did any harm to anyone," he said. "It's only because he's a big dog, which people are scared of, that he was put down. There's a lot of stereotypes about pitbulls."

mcroucher@thenational.ae