67: Swiss dangerous dog-breed bans and restrictions on using a gun to discipline a dog

Most dog bites reported in the U.S are from retriever breeds, however, their bites are less likely to require stitches or surgery than some other breeds.

Winnipeg is one of the few North American cities to enact a pitbull ban, partly in reaction to a particularly savage attack in the 1980s. After 1987, when the ban came into the effect, the number of severe dog bites (necessitating treatment at a hospital emergency) dropped dramatically.*

While a staff-reporter at the Times Colonist, I mentioned this in an article, particularly because the statistics on dog bites suggested that there may be something to the concept of dangerous breeds after all. If you were a Times Colonist reader, you never saw this data.

It was edited out of the story, and thus I was personally introduced to one of the fascinating rules of sociology which is this: Society has many invisible rules that only become visible when they are broken. Suggesting a particular type of dog might be behind severe attacks just because that breed was the one most often identified by the victim, victim’s family, police, witnesses and the animal control office, was a bit too much for my respected editor.

Canadians fuss that they don’t really have their own culture, but they do, and one element of that culture is to refuse any direct line between cause and effect. Sometimes, refusing the data is challenging, but Canadians prove they up to the task time and time again.

Swiss police with an adorable black labrador. I once interviewed a U.S. police dog handler who in response to the question about why they don't use pitbulls said that while pitbulls are intelligent and athletic dogs, they fail to make the standard because once they start an attack, they do not respond readily to commands to stop. This is another quote that never made it to print.

This is how a committee studying the high costs of a university education, came up with a recommendation to extend university studies from four years to five years (true). Because they did not actually say, “let’s buck up the price by 20 per cent while depriving students of a year of job-earnings,”  the committee felt they had fulfilled their mandate. It appears counter-intuitive, but there it is. That is my beloved homeland.

I think of this today because while I wander about noticing the quirks of the Swiss, I can’t help but wonder what Canadians look like to outsiders.

But to get back to the dogs: The Swiss have lovable quirks of their own, but fussing over a way to deal with muscle-mawed breeds is not one of them. Restrictions over breeds are decided on a Canton by Canton basis. One district lists 15 restricted breeds, along with any mongrel descendants of said breeds. The government veterinary office, to which foreigners must report with their dogs, will also examine dogs for any signs that they are related to the restricted breeds and subject them to behavioral tests.

Dog owners must complete a theoretical and a practice course, showing how the Swiss believe a person must be trained and certified in all aspects of life, including golfing – this is a true fact – golfers must take classes and be certified before they step on a golf course.**

We do, however, see pitbulls on the streets of our little town, because we happen to live inside the Canton of Bern, where there are no breed restrictions. None of them appear vicious, but curiously, their owners appear to be so. We always give them a wide berth.

In other news you might not know about Switzerland’s laws governing dog-ownership: It is prohibited to use a gun to train a dog. I am trying to imagine how a logical person might use a firearm, but the Swiss law suggests people use it to fire “warning shots.” We had a labrador retriever who slept through fireworks, even when living in Spain where fireworks sound more like bombs  It’s unlikely a Glock would have impressed him much.

*While pitbull breeds were the culprits in the most damaging attacks, they are not the most prolific biters. The United States reports most bites comes from retriever breeds – particularly labrador and goldens. This is not because these dogs are more inclined to bite, but because they are the most popular breeds. There are just more of them around.

** Dog owners who can prove they owned a dog prior to 2008 are exempt.  

Dog import rules:  If you are going to import a dog to Switzerland, click here for the rules.  Here are more rules you need to know (click here).

Note: I do not hate pitbulls. I have known many who are very sweet. 

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98: French fils et filles – c’est bon or non?

A French child playing quietly at an outdoor cafe' in France.

Yesterday’s one-day research project into the conduct of French children and the efficacy of French parenting was carried out over the cobblestoned medieval square at Mulhouse, a museum-laden town in France’s eastern Alsace region. Pity me, working so hard.

The task was triggered by American author Pamela Druckerman’s assertion in her hit book Bringing Up Bebe that the French know more about parenting than do Americans.

Joanna Goddard, Manhattan-based blogger at A Cup of Jo summarized Bringing Up Bebe in this way (this is a summary of her summary):

  1. You can have a grown-up life, even if you have kids.
  2. You can teach your child the act of learning to wait.
  3. Kids can spend time playing by themselves, and that’s a good thing.
  4. Believe it when you tell your child “No.”

This dog raised two boys, neither of whom turned to a life of crime.

It’s worth noting that these four tenets are nothing new. Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson wrote the same stuff back in the 1970s. Before then, my mother took #3 to an extreme level by pushing us out the door immediately after breakfast and not letting us back inside until supper.

I took the practice even further with my own children who spent their summers outdoors under the supervision of a yellow labrador retriever that I trained to deliver notes to them that read “Dinnertime!” and “Don’t let your brother play near the shore.” Come to think of it, I should have penned a book “Retriever-Raising Your Rascals.”

Outdoor cafes in town squares are lovely car-free zones to teach children about restaurant manners. They can sit quietly with the adults, or safely blow off steam by running around the square.

In our afternoon of observing the French, we saw many children dining quietly at street cafes, trundling contentedly along the pedestrian malls and frolicking in the cobblestoned squares. Recalling the wailing kids we had seen in North American Wal-Mart stores, it seemed that Druckerman might have a point.

Then Dave saw a fussing four-year-old girl whose mother delivered to her a solid whack on the bottom and a stern reprimand.  A little later, another siren-whine of  some random child cut through the crowds. Two whiners in one afternoon seemed on-par with North American over-bored and stuck-in-stores-too-long child stats as reported by the unscientific commission of me and my friends.

Here in Switzerland, the scene is very much the same, although overall the Swiss are a more restrained people than North Americans and it shows in their youngsters.

There is another constant at work in this. The popularity of Bringing Up Bebe shows that not only the French are concerned about how to raise children, but that as a society, North Americans are, too. Otherwise, Druckerman’s book would never have made it to the New York Times bestseller list.


Maid in Switzerland, or Jennifer Lopez makes it look all sparkly, but really it is not. And, our weird worries about maid-theft.

I sit here wrapped in a silk leopard print wrap, a stained white tank top, over-sized fleece shorts, a black guard on my overworked right wrist, and floor debris on the bottoms of my bare feet. My hair, strapped into a ponytail last night, has evolved into a tropical island assemblage complete with the dreaded ‘palm tree’ up top.

This is normally a private moment in my day when I take in my required caffeine dose (a quart before 10 a.m.) and align my cranial synapses, however, five minutes ago a woman tapped on my door. I am not normally in the habit of opening my door this early in the morning, but it is a hotel and I’ve heard the cleaning staff puttering down the hallway for the last 30 minutes. I was pretty sure if it was some freakoid, the maids would make short work of him.

It was not a freak at all, but a maid, speaking Spanish and French, which is a lot better than a maid speaking German and Italian. This way I have a 20 per cent chance of communicating, as opposed to the .03% chance with the latter. Armed with towels, she said something about the bathroom.

Housekeeping and maintenance is constant in the hotel – they change vent filters, tinker with the plumbing, install new smoke detectors,  upgrade the phones, and so forth. They’re busy people, and so I loathe to send them away. I let the woman in thinking she was going to replace the towels in the bathroom.

I was wrong about that. As I sit here like the Queen of Sheba, she is engaged in all-out housecleaning, scouring the bathrooms, doing the floors, the sheets and so forth.

I don’t speak enough French/German/Spanish/Italian to tell her we get maid service once a week on Saturdays, not daily, and to send her away might distress her, so I tidied up the kitchen in an effort to stay out of her way while giving the appearance that I am a contributing member of society. Now I am out of things to do, so I just sit here and tap away on my keyboard.

I am always a little uncomfortable with maid service. It is because I expect them to be something like the first maid all of us know: Our mothers. Maybe I am waiting for the scolding about leaving the sink full of soapy water soaking socks or failing to pick up after myself.

We have employed maids twice in our lives. In Spain, we hired a Filipino maid who spoke not a word of English, except to state her hourly rate, which was quite steep. We had a yellow labrador at the time who shed buckets in the Madrid heat (no air conditioning) and I could not keep pace, so we tried out the hired help route. It turned out that maid was worth every penny. I have never seen, or even aspired to the standards that she set.

Google the word "maids" and up will come a lot of images of sexy short-skirted women, but the truth is most maids look like this. We have a friend who for a time worked full-time as a maid, and she had muscle definition that would make Jillian Michaels' jaw drop. It's physical work.

She also gave me the weirdest and most delightful moment I have ever had in my housekeeping career – when she came in the house, I only had to point at something and she would set on it like a doberman on a rabbit. I had spent more than 18 years trying to get my own children to do house chores on command, so it was a singular experience to assign a task without having to apply a tremendous amount of argumentation, pressure and browbeating. I don’t even remember that woman’s name, but I adored her and recommended her widely to all.

We hired our second maid in Victoria when the boys were in university and Dave and I  both worked full-time at demanding careers. She had a house key and came during the day when we were away. That felt odd to us, but it was that or perish in a bacterial stew of our own making.

Then one of our sons came home early to find the maid’s five-year-old daughter and teenaged son hanging around while she worked. That did not feel good to me, although I could certainly understand the pressures a working mother feels. I wished she had asked me first. The five-year-old made me nervous because I have never trusted a child to not swallow bleach, or pull things down from the counter onto their heads with dreaded effect. Having heard emergency doctors exclaim, “Hi Jo, what’s he done now?” more than once, my apprehensions are valid. My house at the time was not childproof.

Jennifer Lopez, all starched and pretty, but if she saw what our hotel maids saw this morning, namely me in my sleepwear, she would have looked for other work.

The teenager made me nervous because who isn’t nervous around teenagers? What is to say he wouldn’t scope out the place and then return some night with his friends and a pick-up truck. I’m not saying all teenagers would do this, but I would like to have eyeballed the kid first to make my own appraisal.

We tolerated this for a while, but then some DVDs went missing. Too mortified to make accusations, we discharged the maid on the grounds that we just felt weird having a maid. She was very gracious and went on her way. She was a fabulous maid. We had two labrador retrievers at the time, so our house’s shed-fur content had reached factory-rated levels.

We fumed about the suspected theft, until some weeks later we found all the missing DVDs in a laptop bag. Our guess is that the five-year-old fiddled about while her mother worked, and just put them there, probably to be helpful. We were very glad we had kept our suspicions to ourselves.

The hotel maid is now done. Someone will probably tell her she did the room for nothing. I haven’t seen her before, so she must be new. I know all the maids here – they school me in French and Italian every time they catch me in the hall. It is a lot like having a dozen mothers, waiting to correct me, improve me and appraise me every time I leave my room. They are adorable, and they work hard. We should respect them, just like we should respect our mothers.

Post-note: The Head Housekeeper is now in my room. She has discovered the new maid’s mistake and is rattling on in French that curiously I understand. My mother is French. I’ve heard this tone many times before. She is put out that the new maid goofed. The Head Housekeeper, Isabella, runs this hotel with an efficiency that NASA administrators could appreciate.  Amid profuse apologies over the mistake, she has explained that the room will not be cleaned tomorrow.  Just as when my brothers were in trouble with my Mom, I am glad that I am not the one under fire.