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Euthanasia for non-violent illegal dogs halted

Sylvan Richards (File photograph)

The euthanasia and deportation of non-violent illegal dogs has been halted, with new laws planned on the contentious subject later this year.

Campaigners Punish the Deed not the Breed Bermuda welcomed the move, but implored the Government to implement fairer dog legislation on a more permanent basis.

Sylvan Richards, the Minister of Environment and Planning, announced the change in policy in the House of Assembly yesterday, telling MPs that amendments to the Dogs Act 2008 would be brought for debate and that this would “place this Government in a position to revisit the controversial breed-specific policies”.

A spokeswoman for the animal advocacy group said: “Punish the Deed not the Breed is pleased to hear that there will be a halt to the seizure and killing of dogs being targeted solely on the basis of breed-specific legislation.

“We are of the understanding that the canine committee has received our legislation amendments over a year ago and has had meetings to address the issues that the public have raised and supported about dog-ownership laws in Bermuda.

“We are firm believers that responsible dog ownership is a must and that legislation should reflect that.”

But she added: “While we are pleased with the halt of the killing of nonviolent dogs we also are pleading with the Government to implement dog legislation that will be a solution on a more permanent basis, addressing the fact that the dogs can be better regulated if they are a restricted breed as opposed to them being driven underground by prohibited-breed legislation.”

The group, which has been petitioning the Government for more than two years to amend the legislation so that pitbull-type dogs are classed as restricted rather than prohibited, has helped rehome about 40 seized dogs overseas.

It has also submitted information and legislative amendments to the canine advisory committee set up in 2015 to look into the matter.

Speaking in the House of Assembly, Mr Richards said he had asked “the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to immediately halt the euthanasia or deportation of illegal animals that have no history of aggression pending legislative amendments and a full review of policies going forward”.

But he said this “does not mean that the Government will forgive the illegalities that have occurred, but simply we will not be separating these animals from their owners at this time”.

Mr Richards added that he would not make any promises about a long-term solution, only a comprehensive exploration of all the options.

He furthermore warned the owners of illegal dogs that, if the animals act in a threatening manner or cause injury, they will still be subject to seizure and euthanasia. According to Mr Richards, pitbull-type dogs remain the most popular dog in the prohibited category despite their breeding being illegal since 2003. Noting that pitbull-type dogs can have “the temperament of a loving family pet, but also that of a fierce fighter”, he added that pitbull-type dogs continue to be “the most problematic breed, causing injury at a rate far above its prevalence in the general canine population”.

And while Mr Richards said the breed-specific legislation introduced in 2003 had proven successful in reducing dog attacks, he added that the rules had come under strict criticism by some members of the public because it targeted animals based on their breed rather than their behaviour.

“To deal with illegal dogs, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has developed numerous policy iterations, the most recent having been established in December 2015,” Mr Richards explained.

“In this policy, illegal dogs of a prohibited breed faced euthanasia or deportation, even if the individual animal had no history of having been a threat to public safety. I find this fact to be disturbing, as do many other people in our community.”