Team Dog Inc. is a registered charity based in Sydney, Australia that works to support pet owners in times of crisis, with a focus on keeping pets out of pounds and with the families that love them. We are also strong advocates against Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and for the families and pets affected by it.
In our state, New South Wales, a dog that is declared to be either a purebred ‘Pit Bull’ or a ‘Pit Bull cross’ that fails a temperament test is a restricted breed dog, and owners must comply with very strict (and sometimes impossible) requirements to keep them. A restricted dog cannot be rehomed, which means that dogs that enter shelters and are not reclaimed are at risk of losing their lives if there is no one to advocate for them.
This girl was nicknamed “Bonnie” when she was picked up as a stray in very poor condition and impounded at Hawkesbury Companion Animal Shelter in Sydney, Australia in November 2013. Three years previous, she had been declared a “restricted dog” because of how she looks, and because her owner hadn’t contested the notice that was issued to them. We don’t know why they didn’t, but the cost to contest via assessments can be over $300, so cost may have been a factor.
Because of this declaration and because of the legislation in NSW, unless her owner reclaimed her and paid the thousands of dollars in fines, Bonnie would have to be killed. Understandably, there was some public outcry.
Behind the scenes, Team Dog worked to try and secure this girl’s future. Thanks in large part to Blacktown and Hawkesbury Councils (two local government organisations who had the option to give her a chance) working with us and knowing that this dog didn’t deserve an automatic death sentence, the Department of Local Government decided to overturn the restricted breed declaration and give Bonnie a chance at life.
This chance came with some conditions. First, a rescue group needed to be lined up for Bonnie if everything fell in her favour. Fetching Dogs, a very well-respected and established group, stepped up to take responsibility. Second, Bonnie would be subject to a Breed Assessment, meaning someone would need to come out and assess whether or not she was a “Pit Bull based on her appearance.” If she was declared a “Pit Bull,” she would not be afforded a pulse. If she was declared a “Pit Bull cross” she would then have to have a Temperament Assessment. If she was declared any other breed(s), she would be free to leave.
In early January 2014, Bonnie was breed assessed by an individual as a “Pit Bull cross.” This meant a Temperament Assessment had to be lined up. Considering the effects a pound environment can have on a dog’s behaviour, and especially one that had been impounded for approaching three months, there is always a 50/50 chance of a good outcome.
You would expect this assessment to be done by a qualified, accredited trainer or behaviourist. Bonnie’s Temperament Assessment was done by a vet, at a vet surgery – the first time she had left the pound in all that time.
Bonnie while impounded
On January 16th, 2014 we were told she failed her assessment. Apparently, Bonnie had shown negative behaviours towards another dog while at the vet surgery, and this was enough for the vet to decide to sentence her to death without taking in to account the stressful environment of a vet surgery, and of a pound for all that time previously.
Bonnie had the support of Team Dog, Hawkesbury and Blacktown Councils, Fetching Dogs, the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel and thousands of supporters online, in person and around the globe. She had a wonderful, foster-based rescue group with the best behaviourists on board ready to take her on and work with her if she showed any issues stemming from her less-than-stellar past.
But none of that matters under Breed Specific Legislation – all that matters is her appearance, and the results of a subjective ‘temperament test,’ performed by a Vet, that merely measures her responses to stimuli at a single snippet in time. Studies have shown that even the most well-researched and constructed ‘temperament tests’ elicit very different responses from the same dog when re-tested, even if performed as close as 24 hours together. Could Bonnie have ‘passed’ the temperament test the following day? We’ll never know.
Bonnie was killed on January 17, 2014 just over two years ago, because of a legislation that unfairly targets dogs based on how they look. We think of her often, and mourn her loss at the beginning of every year. Many people don’t realise that New South Wales and most of Australia has Breed Specific Legislation, but we are constantly fighting it, and so are individual Councils, Rescues, and Animal Welfare groups.
We thank Blacktown and Hawkesbury Councils for doing everything in their power to give this girl a chance. We also thank Graeme McEwen of Barristers Animal Welfare Panel for stepping in at the last minute and working late into the night to try and seek any alternatives for her. Unfortunately her chances were hindered from the start by our legislation. This dog should have been protected by laws, not failed by them, and certainly not killed because of them.
Team Dog remains firmly opposed to Breed Specific Legislation due to the overwhelming evidence that it does nothing to promote public safety.
Bonie at the time of impounding (top) and the week before she was killed (bottom)
While we were absolutely devastated for some time after Bonnie’s unjust death, we took comfort in these photos, taken shortly before she was killed, that show how much her physical and mental condition improved while in care. We were able to imagine the happy dog she would have been had she been given the chance for a new life. Thank you to Hawkesbury staff and volunteers for being responsible for this transformation.
We subsequently launched a social media campaign, #BonnieLives. You can see the photographs collated here.
Just one of the many submissions to our #BonnieLives campaign
Team Dog continues to advocate for a safe, humane Australia two years after Bonnie was unjustly killed. We’re making progress and we’re confident we will eventually see BSL abolished and replaced by proven, science-driven Animal Management models.