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Experts: Dog fighting is on the decline

The majority of dogs re-homed by the SPCA are a mix breed with pit bull or other dogs that are currently on the Island's "banned" importation list.

As a direct legacy of the boom in popularity ten years ago for fighting-breed and powerful dogs, most of the canines being cared for by the SPCA have within their genetic mix some of the so-called "aggressive dog" characteristics.

That was one bone of contention raised during a passionate debate involving animal lovers who attended an open forum to discuss animal cruelty in Bermuda on Friday night.

The aim was to hear what people think should be done to combat such problems as dangerous dogs, maltreated pets and the conditions of working horses and ponies on the island.

Graphic photographs were shown to the 30-odd residents who attended the meeting at the Horticultural Hall in the Botanical Gardens to hear a presentation led by Government Veterinarian Officer Jonathan Nisbett.

The pictures showed dogs being kept in crammed, caged conditions and horses that had not had their hooves shorn, or were badly malnourished.

There were photographs of dogs that had evidently been hurt in dog-fighting contests.

One issue that generated much of the heat amongst the audience was dog ownership and the responsibility of owners to train and look-after their pets properly.

Dog groomer Margo Mulder spoke out in the question and answer session: "It is not just fighting-dogs that are the problem.There are some dogs who have just not been well looked after. How do you teach perfectly educated people about how they should be looking after their pets. I find the owner is often the biggest problem but it is their dog that ends up in trouble."

During the discussion on fighting dogs SPCA shelter chairman Andrew Madeiros said if the SPCA was to destroy all the dogs it took in which had some mix of fighting-dog breed in them: "We would have no dogs left to adopt."

Speaking to The Royal Gazette afterwards SPCA President Heather Kromer said: "It is generally puppies that we get and we have an agreement with the Department of the Environment that these animals can be socialised and trained and are spayed and neutered before they are adopted.

Mr. Madeiros explained: "If you look back about ten years ago there was a big increase in interest in big dogs and breeds such as the American pit bull. These dogs were not spayed or neutered and we saw thousands of them on the Island.

"They were popular breeds and more likely than not the owners did not get a licence.

"Now, outside of the pure breed population on the Island, most of the dogs have some pit bull in them. We are seeing less of them now because there are restrictions on importing them."

The SPCA works with the young animals it is given and, through professional dog training, is able to socialise the dogs up to a point where they can be adopted by a new owner.

Government Veterinarian Officer Mr Nisbett said: "We agreed with the SPCA that they can socialise these dogs and be a safe haven for them and let them adopt the dogs that would otherwise be illegal."

He said the problem of dog fighting has diminished on the Island although big money, organised fights probably still go on but are very difficult to detect without the help of the public.

He said: "Sometimes it is two or three weeks later that we might visit a property and see the wounds of a dog that has been fighting."

Another who spoke during the meeting was Dennis Fagundo, vice-president of the Bermuda Working Dog Club, who said: "I'm happy that the socialising of dogs is an issue and that the owners are an issue.

"It's obvious the (breed) ban does not prevent the things that we are trying to prevent because the dogs are not the problem, the owners are.

"I'm very much against the dog ban in and of itself."

Animal Protection Police officer Yvonne Ricca, who helped organise the open forum, told TheRoyal Gazette: "Dog fighting has slowed down and animal cruelty has slowed down somewhat. But we are finding a lot of complaints about horse and carriages and pony racing. There are dogs out there without proper care or water and we often only find out by stumbling over them.

"Anytime that a person suspects isn't right they should call us and let is go and investigate."

Members of the public should call the Police, Crimestoppers, SPCA or the Government animal wardens.