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. 

97: A town with its own water cannon truck

Now that's a water cannon!

Our town may only house 60,000 souls or so, but that doesn’t mean its police force can’t have cool equipment, like armored water cannon trucks.

We were out for our Sunday stroll when we noticed all access points to our town square were covered by police vehicles and uniformed officers. Poised at the brink of the square was what looked like a Canada-style recycling truck. On closer inspection, we found the police logo on the door, which led to questions about whether police were branching out into the refuse and recycling collection biz.

Water cannons are abhorred in North America for their historical use in the race riots of the 1960s, but they are still made and sold in Europe (U.K.-manufactured), and come in handy to remind soccer rioters to keep their game-enthused vandalism confined to the arena.

Dave voted we just keep walking and not let our eyes meet any of the officers’ gazes, but my reporter sensibilities drove me on to the nearest armed police officers. Dave kept a distance so that after my arrest he would still be available to file a report to Amnesty International and call our U.N. -connected friends to see if they could shake me loose from the clutches of the Swiss authorities.

The officers were friendly and said that they were readying for a soccer riot, which is just about the best thing I’ve heard all year. European soccer riots are the stuff of legend and seeing one up close would be memorable. This view is why, by the way, Dave would like to put a leash and muzzle on me when we go out for a stroll.

“So, when should I stay clear of the square,” I asked the officer, but as any cop will tell you, when a reporter asks when to stay away, she is really saying, “When does the party start and what should I wear?”

Sadly, he said there was no need to stay clear. None of the officers wore that tense ‘don’t mess with me I have guns, billy clubs, a stun gun and I am ready to play Star Trek/Star Wars/Battlestar Galatica  on your head’ expression. The armored water cannon vehicle, the haul-you-off-to-jail vans and police were all a show of hands and in our mostly unassuming quiet little watchmaking town, that is enough to keep the peace.

Tear gas used to protect pro-life protesters.

As a side note: Although the police told me there was water in the cannon truck, Swiss police do sometimes use the trucks to shoot tear gas into crowds. It is reported they did exactly that last year when a peaceful march of about 1,000 people favoring protection for unborn children was threatened by people favoring unrestricted abortion access.