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Illegal dogs callers fear owner retaliation

People reporting illegal dogs to the Bermuda SPCA are withholding information out of fear the animal will be killed.

According to the organisation, callers are also afraid of retaliation from both the dog owner and the general public.

“The shelter does receive reports of illegal dogs,” Deborah Titterton Narraway said. “About 50 per cent of these will not provide additional information for fear the dog in question will be euthanised but the other half of the callers do provide full reports.”

The interim executive director added: “The reason we see at the shelter that people do not wish to provide additional information on illegal dogs is fear of retaliation from the both the dog owner and the general public.”

The SPCA spoke to The Royal Gazette after local animal advocacy group Punish the Deed not the Breed Bermuda renewed its call on the Bermuda Government to move pit bull-type dogs off the prohibited and on to the restricted list. The Government appointed a canine advisory committee in April to look into the matter and a spokesman said the minister had reviewed the interim report and is awaiting further documentation to determine the next steps.

While Ms Titterton Narraway, who is also the charity’s marketing, fundraising and communications manager, said that the SPCA would reserve its position on whether the legislation should be amended until further research has been done, she added that not all seized illegal dogs need to be put down.

She said that while some do from a temperament perspective, many of the dogs they see “are family-friendly pets”.

Ms Titterton Narraway added: “The current laws were put in place to improve community safety and comfort, but ultimately these laws cause hardship to responsible dog owners of illegal yet properly supervised, friendly, well-socialised dogs and ultimately the destruction of the dogs in questions.

“The Bermuda SPCA agrees that no fault lies with the dog — humans are breaking the law by either breeding without a licence or homing a dog they know is illegal under the current law.”

The animal charity, which is bound by law to report illegal dogs in its possession, said it had observed a decrease in dog fighting and fewer attacks since breed-specific legislation was introduced in 2003. However, cruelty and the improper care of illegal dogs have been on the rise and the black market for illegal dogs continues.

But the biggest change the charity has observed at its shelter is a large reduction in dogs.

Ms Titterton Narraway said: “Prior to 2003, the shelter would have hundreds of dogs and puppies in a year which would then be adopted out into the community after being temperament tested. In recent years we average approximately 40 dogs per year.” And according to Ms Titterton Narraway, the biggest problem at the shelter is dogs with no social skills and dogs that tend to have resource-guarding issues.

“Illegal dogs tend to be kept away from people and other animals for fear of being identified,” she said.

“Being ‘illegal’ also deters the owners from seeking routine veterinary care, including having their dogs tested annually and treated monthly for the mosquito-borne diseases.”

The SPCA also called for other changes, namely enhanced enforcement of leash and dog-at-large laws, laws that prohibit chaining or tethering coupled with enhanced enforcement of animal cruelty and animal fighting laws, as well as a better way to deal with seized illegal dogs that are found to be healthy, trained and well socialised.

According to the organisation, large penalties and strict enforcement of laws for those illegally breeding and selling dogs are also needed.