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Proposals to downlist pitbulls and bulldogs

A black pitbull terrier

Pitbulls and America Bulldogs could be downlisted from prohibited to restricted breeds and a ticketing penalty system could be introduced for non compliant pet owners under draft proposals from the Department of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources.

Government veterinarian Jonathan Nisbett outlined a host of recomendations during a town hall meeting at the Anglican Cathedral Hall last night, with another meeting at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo this evening.

The suggestions were drawn up following consultation with stakeholders including the Canine Advisory Committee, the SPCA, the department and Attorney General Chambers but the public still has a chance to provide feedback.

Among the other major recommended amendments were establishment of dog-control notices and civil penalties, limitations on breeding; and the establishment of animal welfare measures.

Mr Nisbett touched on breed specific legislation saying it was still a necessity. Restricted breeds can be imported or bred, but with restrictions on ownership, including special enclosures and property inspections.

“I can’t predict individual dogs,” he said, “but we know that we can make generalisations according to breed.

“It is our proposal not to do away with breed-specific legislation — we are proposing that we keep it. Some of this comes with a lot of angst and uncertainty but one of the things we are looking to do is to downlist the pitbull and American bulldog from the prohibited category to the restricted category.”

Bermuda’s current ticketing regime allows for the issuing of tickets, but regulations are required for the formatting of tickets. Under the proposals, that requirement would be removed and a ticket system, not dissimilar to parking tickets, would support it.

“We get many calls about big dogs from people who are unhappy and insecure walking around their neighbourhood, but there is no offence unless it has attacked. Don’t go and clean up the blood afterwards; let’s try to prevent it from the beginning. That is what this does; it is not involving the court, but the notice will be legally enforceable and failure to follow the notice would be an offence.”

The implementation of civil penalties would also alleviate the burden on the judicial system.

Mr Nisbett said the mandatory reporting of dog bites should be introduced along with better regulation.

The proposals also aim to improve welfare for dogs including all animals being given their “five freedoms” which Mr Nisbett said the current law is silent on. The freedoms Mr Nisbett referenced are: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behaviour.

Other animal welfare proposals include the requirement of a health certificate for dogs, limits on litters and restricted breeds having preapproved premises on application. Excessive and unsafe tethering would also be prohibited, while officers will be authorised to break into a car if they have cause to believe it is suffering.

Overall, the aim is to create a fair system for dog ownership, Mr Nisbett said, reduce the pressure on the judicial system and to change human behaviour while creating a framework for fewer inconsistencies in the department’s decisions.

Mr Nesbitt said the draft proposals will be published on the government portal at www.gov.bm

The public has been invited to offer feedback via e-mail at animals@gov.bm by October 20.