Moniz: I’ve got an ‘open mind’ on dangerous dogs
Health and Environment Minister Trevor Moniz told MPs he had an “open mind” about how best to deal with Bermuda's dangerous dogs and is “sympathetic to the idea that there should be some change”.
Mr Moniz said he didn't propose to make any changes to the current policy on prohibited dogs in the “short-term future” but noted: “It's difficult, with the numbers that are there at the moment, to have a system which is enforceable, so it requires very careful thought.
“There are a number of ideas being brought forward. We hope to look at them in the fullness of time — perhaps the next six months or so.”
As reported by The Royal Gazette yesterday, seizures of illegal dogs by wardens from the Department of Environmental Protection doubled between 2012 and 2013, with banned pit bulls the breed most likely to be captured.
A Department spokeswoman said last night: “The higher number of seizures of pitbulls and crosses thereof in 2013 versus 2012 is a reflection of a tougher stance being taken against illegal dogs, especially of the problematic breeds, in light of the disproportionate offences being committed by this breed.
“The tougher stance represented firmer enforcement of the legislation and a halt to the amnesty [on illegal dogs] that occurred in 2011 which trailed into 2012.”
The Island's Canine Advisory Committee has recommended that pit bulls — and most of the other breeds on the banned list — be allowed under a more carefully managed system of dog ownership.
Mr Moniz has yet to meet with the committee or be given a formal written recommendation but he told the House of Assembly that a report he had seen from the group was a little “uneven”.
“It's a strange committee, because only certain members are allowed to be voting members,” he said on Monday, adding that the committee itself didn't agree on a way forward in the report, with the chairman disagreeing with other members.
“I haven't managed to really come to grips with it yet but hope to in the future,” added the Minister.
This newspaper understands that the report referred to by the Minister was prepared in 2012, under the last Government, when Marc Bean was Environment Minister.
After the One Bermuda Alliance won the December 2012 election, Sylvan Richards took on the Environment portfolio and reconvened the committee, tasking it with coming up with a fresh solution to the Island's illegal dog problem.
That committee, chaired by Glenn Doers, made a verbal recommendation to Mr Richards to have another amnesty allowing anyone with an illegal dog to get it licensed and to introduce a managed restricted list for most large dog breeds.
A source, who asked not to be named, told this newspaper: “The report referred to by Mr Moniz was submitted to Minister Bean. That committee, when Sylvan Richards took over, was defunct.
“Sylvan Richards gave the committee a new mandate. The committee followed the mandate and when it voted on the recommendations for Minister Richards, the vote was unanimous.”
The source added that the only non-voting members of the committee were civil servants — ex officio members — from the Department, who were appointed to share information and expertise, rather than make decisions.
Mr Richards told MPs on Monday that he agreed with both proposals from the committee he convened, having previously been against taking pit bulls off the banned list.
“They changed my mind,” he said. “They gave me a different perspective on the responsibility on owners of dogs.”
Referring to the December Cabinet shuffle when Mr Moniz was handed the Environment brief, Mr Richards added: “That's what my committee recommended and I was going to go ahead and implement it but then the landscape changed politically.”
He said the amnesty would give Environmental Protection a better idea of how many banned breed dogs were on the Island, admitting: “We don't have a handle on just how many dogs are out there.”
The Bermuda Domestic Animal Registry, which was shared with this newspaper by the Department of Environmental Protection, lists more than 8,100 live, legal dogs. The Budget book, meanwhile, says there are 4,044 licensed dogs.
The Department spokeswoman said in an email that the registry was a list of dogs believed to be living in Bermuda.
“As of this moment, there are 8,190. That number will fluctuate throughout each day, as animals' records are modified. All of these dogs would be considered legal (whether through legal birth, importation, adoption or legitimisation).
“It is a snap shot of what we know, not an absolute snap shot of what exists in the community, as births, deaths and emigrations are not always reported.”
She added: “Licensed dogs are just that: dogs to which a licence number has been issued and the expiration of the licence has not lapsed. That number is substantially less than the number of live dogs.
“ As of this moment, about 44 percent of the live dogs are licensed. Government has also been using its new accounting system to track non-renewals and to collect on unpaid licence fees and has been exploring other means to make re-licensing easier for the dog owner. The Department of Environmental Protection constantly reminds owners that every dog, regardless of age, is required to be licensed.”
Mr Moniz told the House of Assembly that the Island was estimated to have more than 8,000 dogs — and that the Department was aiming to have 60 percent of them licensed this financial year.
He said last year's target of 75 percent was “never achieved and proved to be an optimistic target”.
Mr Moniz said he'd discussed the idea of an amnesty with Mr Richards and was considering a suggestion from Deputy Speaker Suzann Holshouser to bring in a muzzle law similar to one in the UK.