Vandals Hound Afghans

Arsonists destroyed a hall used by the New South Wales Afghan Hound Club yesterday. Police confirmed it was the second attack on an Afghan Hound club in a week.

In the first attack, a club house in Queensland was damaged after the premises was fire bombed. The hall was also used by the local scout group. Fortunately, a taxi driver in the area alerted police and no one was injured.

A group of youths was reportedly seen fleeing the area, but police have no leads to go on.

The latest attack has left club members stunned. "It is affecting my dogs too," said a club spokesperson. "They are very noticeable dogs and I get strange looks when I take them for walks now. It is very unsettling."

Many Australian breeders are so concerned they are keeping their dogs indoors.

Prime Minister John Howard said he was horrified by the attack.

"It is an act of vandalism. I condemn it unreservedly," Mr Howard said. "There is no place in Australia for this kind of despicable conduct."

A Police spokesperson said the service's recently created Afghan Hound Task Force had been called into action. Police have not ruled out foul play and are investigated claims a rival club may have been involved.

"These competitions are quite cut-throat and rival clubs would try anything to win," said a police spokesperson.

Meanwhile in a further embarrassment to the Howard government it has been revealed that a group of Afghan hounds have been held in quarantine for over two years.

It appears the animals were to have been part of the 1998 Royal Easter Show, but were seized by customs officials.

The Democrats have hounded the government during question time on the issue, but the Government insists they are "barking up the wrong tree".

"Opinion polls show the electorate are totally behind us on this issue," said a government spokesperson.

Undeterred the Democrats have organised an on-line petition urging Australians to voice their concerns.

The RSPCA is also investigating the incident. "We are concerned at the length of time these animals have been kept in captivity," said a spokesperson. "If the government has no intention of letting them out it is important to find some other country willing to accept them."

Prominent animal rights activist, Bridget Bardot, has condemned Australia's treatment of the Afghans.

Bardot, who habitually complains about ritual slaughter of sheep during religious festivals in France, issued a short statement condemning the Australian approach.

"Since the 70s when Afghan hounds were first dragged onto catwalks as fashion accessories these wonderful creatures have been denied any basic rights," she said. "Now Australian's are locking them up in cages."

A Government spokesperson denied the Afghans were being mistreated. "There are laws and procedures in place. We can not let all sorts of dogs into the country every time there is a competition."