Shocked Germany to execute thousands of 'killer' dogs

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The Independent Online

A pit bull terrier named Zeus - "king of the dogs", according to his owner - has brought calamity upon its race.

A pit bull terrier named Zeus - "king of the dogs", according to his owner - has brought calamity upon its race.

Ten years after the rest of Europe started clamping down on attack dogs, Germany finally did away with bureaucratic pussy-footing this week and declared war on the most vicious breeds. Tens of thousands face summary execution in the coming weeks.

Zeus killed a child, unprovoked. Ten pupils had gathered at lunchtime on Monday in a field next to their Hamburg school, waiting to be taken for a swim.

Zeus and Gypsy, a black Staffordshire terrier, suddenly appeared out of nowhere, jumped the fence and attacked the group. A six-year-old Turkish boy named Vulkan tried to flee. Ignoring his owner's commands, Zeus latched on to the child's throat.

By the time armed police arrived, Vulkan was dead, and another child had been severely mauled by Gypsy. Both dogs were shot on the spot.

Television stations interrupted programmes to report on the tragedy, which came just as politicians were considering tactics against attack dogs for the umpteenth time.

The federal government had said it was powerless to act, because dogs were a regional matter. With the exception of Bavaria, which had imposed a breeding ban several years ago, Land governments were gingerly moving towards measures that would not offend the powerful dog-loving lobby.

But the shock of the Hamburg killing, followed by demonstrations in the city, brought procrastination to an abrupt end. The Hamburg government, which was in the process of trying to make leashes and muzzles compulsory for the most dangerous breeds, changed tack.

Pit bulls and their like must now undergo "aggression tests"; those that fail will be put down.

The frenzy unleashed in Hamburg is spreading, as newspapers in other regions urge their authorities to follow the city's lead. Even in Berlin, the dog capital where no restaurant will dare to put up a "no dogs allowed sign" and slaloming among canine excrement on the pavement is regarded as part of city life, attitudes are hardening.

Federal politicians are also beginning to respond, as every day brings banner headlines of fresh maulings. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has called for the destruction of these "killing machines", following revelations by his wife, Doris, that their daughter was recently harassed by a pit bull.

The nation's most famous jogger, foreign minister Joschka Fischer, has admitted he fears dogs lurking in the bushes as he shuffles along the paths, accompanied by two bodyguards, in his favourite Berlin park.

On Friday, the issue of dogs made it to the Bundestag. The Chancellor has given his cabinet just two weeks to draft the legislation complying with the order issued by the mighty Bild newspaper: "Away with these beasts!"

As the nation screams for draconian punishment, Zeus's kin are threatened with extinction. Berlin and the regional governments are at last co-ordinating their actions. In the coming month, all attack dogs will be registered, muzzled, neutered, their import banned.

The "aggression tests" - which put dogs through simulated provocations, such as a baby crying in a pram - are likely to be extended nationwide. Owners violating the new law will face fines of up to DM100,000 (£33,000) and three years in jail.

Eventually, that should stop the carnage, but in the meantime there's a new problem. Owners worried about the huge cost of licensing and selection have started to put their "killing machines" out into the street.

Ten orphaned attack dogs were found tied to trees in Berlin on just one morning last week, and two were roaming free. Meanwhile, pet shops around the country have run out of muzzles.

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