Breed Specific Legislation is the absolute pits: but Shakira’s on a mission to change it

The BSL nightmare: injustice, ineffective and slaughters innocent dogs



Following on from profiling Marc Abraham and Debbie Matthews we were thrilled to catch-up recently with yet another astonishing campaigner for dog health and welfare, Shakira Free Miles RVN BSc.

Marc introduced Shakira to us a few years ago and on meeting her two things strike immediately: she has extraordinary people skills with an effervescent charm and charisma and living a cruelty free life is very important to her. You know straight away that here is someone who’s committed to some strong values and principles in animal welfare.

Shakira founded a campaign The SaveABulls and is a passionate advocate against breed specific legislation (BSL). She was recognised for her tremendous work in 2016 being voted winner of Vet Nurse of the Year in Ceva Animal Welfare Awards. We are pleased she found time out of her busy schedule to tell us more about it and we think you will agree, she offers powerful testament on the nightmare that is BSL and is a formidable champion for its reform.

KI: Shakira what first prompted you to set up this campaign?

Shakira: I had always wanted to work within the animal welfare charity sector and landed a wonderful job within a rescue centre which had a veterinary clinic, this was where I had first experienced the reality of breed specific legislation (BSL). I was very aware of many animal welfare issues, but it was a complete shock to me, as this meant killing healthy innocent puppies and unclaimed strays considered ‘dangerous’ based on conformation only by one person.

As a veterinary professional dedicated to saving and improving the lives of all animals it was not only heart breaking, but a complete injustice that I was expected to kill innocent dogs.

I realised that something had to be done.

KI: You emphasise on your website (an excellent website by the way) that yours is a veterinary led campaign, why is that aspect of it important?

Shakira: It is important because we are a respected profession and our work is evidence led. As veterinary professionals we have the evidence and professional platform to make change, our voices should be heard as we have the science, knowledge and daily experience to prove that every dog is an individual and that all dogs have the ability to bite or be dangerous, no breed or type of dog is more dangerous than any other. The profession should be relied on as we are experts in this field.

We are the ones expected to kill healthy dogs because the government tells us too. Without us lobbying for change how can we expect anything to improve? Our top priority is animal welfare, that is what we are fighting for as well as improving and saving the lives of dogs, it is also to keep the public safe. This is all part of our code of conduct.


KI: You have a very hectic and demanding day-job as a leading VN, so what motivates and inspires you to work so hard in addition to that, to improve the welfare of dogs?

Shakira: I meet wonderful pets everyday and my mission is to improve their lives by educating their owners. This information ensures that their future is not just healthy but happy! My motivation is the dogs that I have had the pleasure to meet and the dogs and puppies that have lost or will lose their lives due to the unjustified enforcement of BSL. I want to protect the future of dogs and make a change to animal welfare on a huge scale. I am a dog owner myself and my boy has a wonderful safe life, I want that for all dogs.

My work ethic and approach always makes me think, ‘How would I feel?’ How would I feel if I was stuck in isolated squalid conditions, suffering from crippling obesity, living in a concrete kennel alone for months or even years on end, in agony from arthritis or being forced to fight?

The dogs need us to be their voice, I want nothing more than to feel satisfied that we have protected them the best that we can. Right now, we are failing them in many ways, there is an awful lot to do!

It is always the dogs that motivate me and inspire me. We are lucky that animals are so forgiving for what we do to them.


KI: What have been the highlights of the campaign so far?

Shakira: Highlights so far have been our successful AGM last year, Pup Aid and our profile within the profession, amongst other welfare campaigners and our media coverage such as Chanel 5 live. We have been blessed with such encouraging comments and support from every organisation we have any contact with all over the world, I myself am very proud of this. The BVNA president has been very proactive with their support of the campaign and was shocked by the reality of BSL for the profession. She has agreed to take on a position statement on this, which is just wonderful.


KI: What are the biggest challenges you currently face?

Shakira: Our biggest challenge is lack of true understanding of dog behaviour and DEFRA sticking to their generic statements based on what seems to be a complete lack of evidence at all, as whenever we have asked for the proof to back up the need for this legislation, none has been provided.

The mislabelling of dogs and media stories only focusing on suspected breeds types as the cause of dog bite incidents or fatalities holds no educational or reality value. Human behaviour change and perception is never an easy thing to secure, but if we expect to keep the public safe this is a step we must take for people and dogs.


KI: In the years you have been fighting for changes to BSL, what would you say have been the key lessons you have learned?

Shakira: Gosh, I have learnt so much, this has changed my life plans considerably, my plan was to open an elephant hospital in Asia, that is now on hold! I have learned a great deal about politics, legislation, dog behaviour and communication. Engagement and networking have also been key in the development of The SaveABulls campaign and I have learnt that always looking at the bigger picture is key to success.


KI: Looking ahead to the next five or so years, what is your biggest wish for the welfare of dogs?

Shakira: My biggest wish is that dogs become recognised as sentient beings and that legislation is changed to protect them effectively. I hope that anyone that is cruel to dogs is sentenced appropriately and are rehabilitated with a much reduced risk of participating in acts of cruelty again.  I wish that people had a better understanding and consideration for dogs, they should all be treated as individuals and every dog deserves the opportunity to thrive.

I also hope that unnecessary seizure and killing of dogs based on their appearance will come to an end and that there is a ban on third party sale of puppies as soon as possible, as thousands are suffering as people are reading this.

KI: How can people support your work and get involved?

Shakira: Spreading awareness is key to success for any desired change. Showing the public that the term “Pit bull” is not something to be scared of is key as well as educating people how to avoid dog bites. People should understand the needs of dogs. Knowing about breed specific legislation is also key in making life changing decisions, veterinary staff should never feel pressurised into killing healthy dogs regardless of suspected ‘breed’.

We are always in need of more veterinary recruits and voluntary support, we love hearing new ideas, supporting similar causes and meeting passionate people, so don’t be shy if you would like to get involved in the repeal of breed specific legislation with us, as we would be thrilled to hear from you and meet you all. We are due again at Pup Aid 2nd September on Primrose Hill we hope to see you there. It is a fun and very enjoyable event.

Please see our website and social media pages for more information or contact us on:

Thanks Shakira, we wish you the very best for the work ahead, you have the full support of the Karlton Index. There is a truly wonderful video of Indy the SaveABulls ambassador dog on Shakira’s website which is a great place to start learning the truth about BSL. You can also follow TheSaveAbulls on twitter @saveabulls

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Philippa Robinson

Philippa Robinson

Philippa’s career as a management and training consultant spans thirty years. Her clients have included HSBC, Royal Mail, Kodak Manufacturing and Swiss Re Insurance as well as a large number of smaller commercial enterprises. She attained a Masters in Human Resource Management with Distinction from Sheffield Business School in 2012 where she was the recipient of the SIG Prize for Excellence. She is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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