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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68: Swiss Fish

This fish must be depressed.

If there is something the Swiss like more than rules, it is making sure that everyone adheres to them, and this is why our hotel staff dare not put a fish in the large glass bowl that adorns the hotel’s front desk.

Pet fish can only be kept in aquariums with corners as it is deemed cruel to consign fish to a life of endless circles with no beginning and no end. I suppose corners might prevent the fish from falling into some kind of existentialist funk, but really? No fishbowls allowed at all? It seems a bit extreme, so I suggested to the staff that they put a fish in the bowl anyway (with water, of course).

It turns out that little rebellion against authority is a no-go. Someone could call the Fish Help-Line (I made that name up) and there would be officers at the desk to the rescue the fish and apply penalties.

Ah, there is nothing so refreshing as living in a society of efficient informers. It reminds me of  Victoria, British Columbia where neighbours are encouraged to tattle on one another to the local government for the slightest thing (using the wrong pesticide or any pesticide at all, watering the lawn outside of the regulated hours or with a non-approved nozzle) and feel quite self-righteous about it.

It is a show of bureaucracy gone overboard, which is one of Europe’s biggest drawbacks. A German friend, for example, migrated to Canada partly because she tired of applying for permits for the simplest activities, such as painting her front door. Apparently, she would have to get her chosen colour approved beforehand. Here in Switzerland, foreigners bringing in pets have to present them to a veterinarian for inspection and register them in the country’s pet database within 10 days.

It’s a little odd for a landlocked country full of farmland where loose dogs could roam over the border in massive rabid packs before anyone would take notice. It is not as if this is Australia or England.

I could be wrong about this, but when local government concerns itself with the shape of aquariums or regulates twist versus spring-lever nozzles, it is a sign of municipal mental meltdown.