Three months have passed since Egyptians followed the news of a Pitbull dog’s attack on an individual. The attack necessitated surgical procedures and tragically resulted in his death. To their surprise, dog owners in Egypt were then confronted with a law banning 16 popular breeds in the country, citing their perceived danger to the population.
According to legal expert Takieddin Marwan, Law 29/2023 was announced on 29 May, regulating the ownership of dangerous animals. Part 2 of the law lists several dog breeds as hazardous, along with wild and predatory animals, venomous insects, and reptiles.
The law gives the owners of these dog breeds one month from the date of the executive regulations to surrender them to the General Authority for Veterinary Services. It also lists other dog breeds, with the owners of these having a one-year deadline to obtain permits effective from the date of issuance of the executive regulations.
The banned dog breeds included the Pitbull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Boxer, Husky, Caucasian Shepherd, and Bullmastiff. The list also includes the Doberman, Alaskan Malamute, Great Dane, Akita, American Bully, Alabai, Dogo Argentino, Cane Corso, and Tosa.
“It’s like passing a law prohibiting people from driving cars because of a car accident,” Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA) Chair Mona Khalil remarked about the new law.
“Despite the involvement of animal-welfare associations in some of the law’s drafting sessions, we were surprised when it was announced with retroactive enforcement. The owners of animals deemed dangerous by the law will be obliged to transfer them to the General Authority for Veterinary Services, and this was not discussed with the animal advocacy organisations.
“We were also taken aback by the list of banned breeds, which includes dogs commonly allowed in other countries. What’s more surprising is that a specific colour of a dog breed is prohibited, while ownership of dogs of the same breed but of a different colour is permitted.
“There are clear discrepancies in the list. For instance, one dog breed is prohibited, but is also listed as permitted under a different name. This indicates a lack of understanding on the part of the drafters of the law regarding dog breeds, their actual traits, and their level of aggression.”
Mohamed Wafa, a certified dog behaviourist of the Animal Behaviour Society in the US, underlined the importance of licensed dog trainers and genetic experts assessing the aggression level of the breeds listed in the new law.
A dog breed’s hostility is determined by two key factors, he said. The first is scientific understanding, resulting from years of research in countries such as the UK and Germany to breed and genetically adapt specific breeds for human company. It is critical to distinguish between wild animals and genetically modified varieties that exist now and are meant to be docile and peaceful towards people.
For example, one of the restricted breeds, the Husky, is similar to wolves and has been deliberately bred over time to incorporate wolf-like features while remaining domesticated. These dogs have wolf-like endurance, allowing them to drag sleds in snow for great distances despite consuming little food.
Despite their difficult working conditions, they do not assault their owners. “Numerous genetic changes have been made to harness their strong traits and maintain domesticity,” Wafa explained.
The other factor is a dog’s handling and training, he added. Dogs, like people, can demonstrate negative behaviour when placed in unpleasant circumstances. They require sensitive treatment. Confining a dog in a closed or dark space and exposing it to psychologically damaging training and behaviour can make it trust its owner at the expense of others and can even cause it to distrust people and become violent against them, Wafa said.
“The incorrect training dogs receive may be the root cause of the majority of the incidents of aggression we hear about,” he said. “Many people rely on organisations such as the police to teach their dog obedience. Dogs may be taught using the same methods as police dogs trained for attack. As a result, when the dog feels threatened, it may attack others,” he added.
“Dogs that live in families with children should be trained to interact with them and tolerate their noise without becoming agitated,” Wafa said. They should be able to interact with others without fear and therefore never attack them. However, this does not exclude a dog from protecting its owner, as this drive is innate in all dogs.
“Without special training, you can see this in the dogs owned by Bedouin. They help the Bedouin with herding, protecting flocks and protecting the Bedouin at night,” Wafa added.
“Many breeds listed in the new law exhibit high obedience and trainability, such as the Rottweiler, which has a bad reputation, and the Pitbull, which was involved in the recent incident in Egypt. By contrast, some dog breeds are still legally available to own but are more challenging to train,” he said.
NEED FOR TRAINING: Rasha Sadek, a journalist and the owner of four dogs, two of which belong to now-prohibited breeds, said that dog breeding plays a significant role in determining behaviour.
“It is possible for a well-treated dog from a prohibited breed to be friendlier than a permitted dog that has been poorly trained,” she said. “Instead of outlawing specific dog breeds, I hoped that the government would establish clear guidelines for their ownership. For instance, I expected the law to rigorously enforce the requirement of leashing and muzzling certain breeds in public spaces.
“I had also hoped that the new law would incorporate a strategy for sterilising stray dogs to curb their population and address the issue of dog poisoning and killing as criminal offences,” Sadek said.
Days after the new law was issued, things escalated for pharmacist Nancy Gerges in the residential complex she lives in. The management of the complex demanded that she get rid of her two dogs, raised for almost 10 years, because they belong to dangerous breeds.
“I received a notification from the compound’s administration giving me a 21-day ultimatum to remove my American Pitbull and German Shepherd dogs following the enactment of the law classifying them as dangerous breeds and prohibiting ownership,” Gerges said.
“I was shocked by this law. My dogs have never harmed anyone in their lives, and I entrusted their training to dog-behaviour professionals. I raised them alongside my own children, so how can the law consider them to be a threat?”
Gerges is not the only one affected by such procedures. “We have received numerous complaints from residents of complexes who have been instructed to remove their dogs, to the extent that we have received more than 350 complaints from just one residential complex,” Khalil said.
“Furthermore, the issue has often proceeded beyond mere warnings, with dog owners threatened with service termination unless they obey and get rid of their dogs.
“We encourage dog owners to take legal action against harassment by residential complex management, on the grounds that it is not authorised to enforce the law or seize dogs from their owners,” Khalil said. “Enforcing the law before the issuance of executive regulations is a breach of the law.”
“The executive regulations are still in progress,” said Ehab Saber, head of the General Authority for Veterinary Services, in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. “Implementation could take up to a year and a half, during which time dog owners can rectify their situations and obtain the necessary licences.”
“The prohibited breeds have been determined by a specialised scientific committee,” he said, “and the list includes a provision granting the relevant minister the right to amend the list of breeds mentioned in the new law.”
“We still hope to see the law amended before its executive regulations are issued,” said Khalil. “We have made it a priority to utilise all legal means to combat the provisions in the new law by submitting official complaints to parliament, the prime minister’s office, and the Ministry of Agriculture.”
“I have been in contact with a lawyer representing residents from my residential complex, as well as other residential complexes facing the same issue. Together, we will take action against the residential complex administration and appeal against the relevant clauses,” Gerges said.
The provisions of the new law banning certain breeds and allowing their confiscation, as well as the pre-emptive steps taken by some residential complex administrations, have sparked widespread controversy and a backlash among social media users, including dog owners and animal welfare organisations.
“We have launched a campaign called ‘Our Dogs Are Not Dangerous’ in which the owners of the prohibited dogs record videos with their dogs showing that they are not dangerous and that they are a part of the family,” Khalil said.
“This campaign aims to raise awareness about the non-threatening nature of dogs and their importance in society.”
“Animal rights are intertwined with human rights, as we coexist within an interconnected system, and God did not create humans to live in isolation,” said Dina Zulfikar, an animal rights activist.
“There are dogs that are companions to the blind and the deaf. Specific breeds are used to teach children compassion, while others are used to assist patients. Some breeds are used for guarding and protecting homes. It is imperative to establish proper standards and requirements for dog ownership rather than simply ban them.
“There will be significant economic and social repercussions of the new law. Banning these breeds will result in companies withdrawing the vaccinations and medical treatments previously provided for them.
“Additionally, many veterinarians and trainers will likely lose their livelihoods due to the decrease in the number of dogs. Moreover, many dog shelters and hosting facilities will likely have to close,” she concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 15 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly