In January of this year, the Norwegian Kennel Club (NKK) was taken to court by the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals (NSPA) and lost the case in the District Court. The appeal starts on 19 September in the Court of Appeal. Chair of the NKK’s executive board, Tom Øystein Martinsen, says that the NKK is well prepared for the appeal, and stresses the importance of this case as a matter of principle.
The Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals sued the NKK, two breed clubs and six breeders of English Bulldogs and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for violating the Animal Welfare Act, claiming that these breeds were so sick and unhealthy that it was unlawful to breed them. The court ruled in favour of the NSPA, however the NKK has appealed, and court proceedings will resume September 19th.
– Why did the NKK decide to appeal?
– We think that there was insufficient evidence, and that this a wrong application of law. It isn’t right that a court of law should be able to override the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, which is the publicly appointed administrative body for animal welfare matters, on the basis of a civil action brought by a particular interest group. If this is to set the precedent for the future, it will be very difficult to have any kind of organised or systematic animal breeding in Norway. You would always risk being taken to court by an interest organisation. It should be up to the administrative body and the experts to decide what is good animal welfare, not the courts, says Martinsen.
There has been a lot of confusion about what the judgement in January actually meant. A lot of people think that the two breeds are now forbidden in Norway, or that it is forbidden to breed them. This is wrong. The judgement is not final, and even if it were to stand on appeal, it would still not be forbidden to own these two breeds of dogs. Furthermore, since the civil action only applies to six named breeders, only they will be unable to continue breeding initially. A total ban on breeding would require new regulations or legislation.
The NKK and the Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals both agree that these dog breeds have obvious health issues. Would it be so bad if breeding these dogs was prohibited?
– That isn’t actually what this court case is really about. It’s about who should have the authority to interpret the Animal Welfare Act. A judgement in this case will actually have repercussions far beyond dog breeding. It could apply to the breeding of all animals in Norway, including the farming sector, Martinsen points out.
Martinsen believes that many people have overlooked this perspective.
He also points out that there is no reason to believe that the NSPA and similar organisations will be satisfied if a breeding ban is imposed on just these two breeds.
– The NSPA have made it clear that this is just the beginning. They haven’t announced any further legal action, but they have made it clear that they will use a judgement politically to ensure a ban on many breeds by means of regulations or legislation. A judgement can ultimately affect the breeding of all pedigree dogs.
– The NKK lost on all counts in January. What can you do to be better prepared this time?
– We’ve been working hard since January and so have the two breed clubs. They have had their own legal action committees tasked with finding and quality controlling information and documentation, facts that didn’t come across clearly enough last time. Breeders of other breeds of dogs have also got involved. The Norwegian Kennel Club have stepped up their communications activities as it’s important to show what we really stand for, what we have done and what we intend to do when it comes to caring for dogs’ health. We have probably been too anonymous and inward-looking in this respect previously. Within the organisation we know what we’re doing ourselves, but we haven’t made it enough of a priority to communicate this to the public. Last but not least, we’ve changed our legal team and now have one of the best lawyers in Norway to conduct our case. Overall, I feel we are much better prepared this time, but you never know for sure how a court case will turn out, says Martinsen.
Whatever the outcome of the appeal, Tom Martinsen is certain that the case will lead to major changes.
– It’ll be a turning point. People wanting to breed dogs will face stricter demands. We see this in the Norwegian Food Safety Authority’s proposal for new regulations for dog breeding. We believe that stricter regulations will be an advantage for all of us involved in organised, responsible pedigree breeding. A great deal of what is now being regulated already exists in the NKK’s rules and guidelines. We have a good collaboration with the Norwegian Food Safety Authority, which we feel understands our activities much better than the NSPA and other organisations do, perhaps the general public as well. The Food Safety Authority consists of experts working for the administration; it’s a specialist body concerned with animals and animal welfare. It should also like this in the future. If all areas of the administration’s responsibilities in Norway are transferred to the courts, it will ultimately pose a threat to the organisation of our society. This gives food for thought, and we hope that the court will also acknowledge this perspective and its implications, says Martinsen.
Five days have been set aside for the appeal.
– If the Norwegian Kennel Club loses in the Court of Appeal, would you consider appealing to the Supreme Court?
– We will of course consider the judgement first, but the principle of who is the highest authority in animal welfare matters is extremely important. The Norwegian Society for Protection of Animals have already said that they will appeal if the judgement doesn’t go in their favour, concludes the chair of the NKK, Tom Øystein Martinsen.