Updated: Aug 02, 2022 10:15 PM
Pitbull-type dog (File photograph)
“Gruesome” cases of animal cruelty, abandonment and injuries have risen since Government relaxed restrictions on the breeding of illegal pitbull dogs, a Government minister admitted today.
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said abuse and the “weaponising” of the animals had “come out of the shadows”.
He also revealed that four pitbull-related incidents may lead to prosecutions.
Mr Roban told The Royal Gazette: “What I am finalizing now is greater power for our dog wardens to act more decisively.”
He said the move would be in place “very quickly to give more support to our wardens”.
“They are regulations that will be passed by negative resolution. Once completed in the proper way they will be published and later go to the House at the proper opportunity, which is the way to get them in place quickly.”
Mr Roban specifically ruled out reimposing harsh restrictions that were lifted by Parliament in 2018, when the euthanisation of banned breeds drew widespread condemnation from the public.
“We have walked away from euthanization as a policy,” he told The Royal Gazette.
But in a statement today, Mr Roban called on those who fought restrictions on the breed to stand up to ensure the wellbeing of the dogs, in the wake of attacks and neglect.
He said: “When the Government suspended the legal breeding of pitbull dogs, there was a public outcry calling for the relaxation of rules.
“Since the rules were relaxed, incidents of animal cruelty, abandonment and injuries have risen, and those loud voices have fallen silent.
“I now call upon those voices that advocated for legislative change to support the safe and responsible keeping of all animals.”
Dog advocates: top issue is breeding for profit
Punish the Deed not the Breed, advocates for pitbulls and other restricted dogs, said the group “always stood for responsible ownership”.
A statement last night said the group had been vocal on sites such as the Pet Connection Facebook page and was not “sitting silent”.
The group said its some of its proposals for dog legislation had been left off by lawmakers, including a call to ban tethering dogs outside.
“Members of our group have assisted numerous puppies and older dogs become legalized where we can and we provide education to those owners where we see the need,” the statement said.
“Just because we are not making headlines does not mean that we are not continuing to do all that we can, often times out of our own pockets. We are a very small group of volunteers who have been fortunate to get sponsors on a case-by-case basis in some emergency situations.”
The group said the island needed “adequate responses by the wardens when illegal litters are reported.”
“We have people reach out to us to help because they have reported abuse and litters to the wardens only to be told they are afraid to enter homes, or that they are too busy to respond to calls. We try our best to work with the wardens.
“The number one issue as we see it is the breeding for profit.
“Profit needs to be removed from the illegal litters and those breeding need to be held accountable through the courts, paying fines large enough to spay and neuter the puppies that were seized.
“Seizing the puppies and adopting them out is something that we have always advocated for.”
The group said costs for spaying and neutering were “prohibitive”, noting the SPCA recently launched a subsidy programme.
“To say that only pitbull type dogs are involved in attacks is disingenuous.
“We have heard first-hand of dog attacks from multiple breeds. However, the only ones that get to the media seem to be the ones that look like pitbulls.”
Mr Roban said a high profile incident on Front Street on July 27, ending in the death of a pitbull and injuries to a police officer, was just one of several disturbing matters related to the breed in the past two weeks.
“On July 21, animal wardens collected a stray black and white pitbull in Pembroke,” he said. “The dog displayed many large, raw skin lesions along its back, from its head to mid-abdomen.
The injuries resembled “second-degree burns”, leaving the dog in so much pain that the Chief Veterinary Officer chose to put it down.
Without identification on the dog, the owner could not be found.
Mr Roban said it was unclear whether the animal’s injuries had been intentional, but that he had suffered “several days”.
“On July 20, animal wardens and police attended the bloody scene of a Warwick residence, where two straying pitbull dogs gained entry into a home and attacked the resident dog.
“In defense of himself and his dog, the homeowner reportedly stabbed one of the attacking dogs. The stabbed dog died from injuries, and the investigation remains ongoing.”
Mr Roban said the photographs of the incidents were “too thick for public consumption”.
He said they highlighted the increasing occurrences of illegal dogs, abused animals, unsocialized dogs and irresponsible ownership that had neighbors “living in fear”.
“It has resulted in at least four active pitbull-related matters that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will present to the Department of Public Prosecutions for consideration.”
He added that dog wardens continue to collect unclaimed animals, that were often euthanized, including 15 since May.
Kate Terceira, executive director of the Bermuda SPCA, said while the charity “agrees that the community should all be taking care of their animals, including pitbulls, the SPCA does not have the power to enforce the Dogs Act.”
Ms Terceira urged enforcement with “not just the removal of the unlicensed dog but banning, fines or heavier penalties for those disregarding the law”.
She said rules on breeds deemed dangerous, pitbulls in particular, appeared to be “major contributors” to illegal breeding, flouting of licensing rules, and abuse – mostly due to non-enforcement.
“The SPCA adheres to restricted breed requirements when rehoming dogs, but the requirements are not always enforced in the community otherwise,” she said.
“The SPCA feels strongly that no dog that has been removed should be given back without being neutered, as it is just allowing the cycle to continue.
“Our community is currently flooded with illegally and irresponsibly bred restricted and non restricted dogs. We have reached crisis point.”
Ms Terceira called it “imperative” that the charity get a seat at “a round table discussion with involved agencies and the minister to discuss the changes that need to be made to the current Dogs Act and care and protection laws”.