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House: possible reprieve for pitbulls

Some form of reprieve for pitbulls could be among the amendments now under consideration for Bermuda's dog legislation.

However, Cole Simons, the Minister of the Environment, has refused to commit to calls from the Opposition to halt the policy of euthanising banned dogs.

“I am currently assessing the policy, and will come back with recommendations,” Mr Simons told the House of Assembly yesterday.

The minister told The Royal Gazette that animal wardens were putting down 80 to 100 dogs a year.

“Let's make clear: I am an animal lover; I have horses, dogs and geese, and I am empathetic on this issue,” he added.

“If you look at the Act, it says that the minister looks out for the welfare of dogs. But we have to abide by the law and the policy that is there to protect the best interests of the community.”

Mr Simons said it was his intention to have changes to the law gazetted during the present session of Parliament, but stressed that suggestions from canine advisory boards were being examined, and had not been committed to.

He told MPs that “shortcomings” in the 2008 Dogs Act would be quickly addressed, allowing the Bermuda Government to revisit “controversial breed-specific policies”.

PLP MP Dennis Lister voiced support for the amendments, noting that he had been minister when Bermuda's list of banned breeds was first enacted in 2003.

Mr Simons agreed to Mr Lister's suggestion that the 2015 recommendations of the canine advisory committee be tabled in the House.

Parliament heard in January that recommendations from the committee included allowing “pitbulls of appropriate temperament” to be taken off the list.

But the minister said dog owners needed to “take ownership of the misdeeds”, noting that a 2001 to 2012 tally of dog incidents showed that pitbulls were responsible for 772 offences ranging from the biting of humans to threatening behaviour.

The next breed category, German Shepherds, were blamed for 134 incidents.

“That's a big gap,” Mr Simons said. “The statistics speak for themselves.”

After consultation, the Act is to come back before legislators to help “bridge the gap between the desires of those who want to own a prohibited or restricted breed, and the need for the Government to maintain security in the community”.

Amendments to both the Act and the prohibited list will be presented “in short order”, Mr Simons added. The seizing and putting down of banned dogs has a long and emotive history, although dog owners now have the option of exporting their animals as an alternative.

The House heard in May 2015 that owners of seized dogs had on occasion camped outside the government kennels, and even attempted to break in for their pets. Opposition MPs tried repeatedly in yesterday's session of Parliament to get Mr Simons to give a yes or no answer on calling off the euthanising of dogs, which Acting Opposition Leader David Burt said was a ministerial policy that could be called off at any time.

Mr Simons refused to be drawn on the issue, saying merely that he was assessing the policy — and that “all options are on the table at this time”.

Update: this story has been amended to include further information from the House of Assembly

Cole Simons, the environment minister (File photograph)

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Published June 04, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 04, 2016 at 10:12 am)

House: possible reprieve for pitbulls

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