Clamping down on dangerous dogs

Come August 1, this year, Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T) twelve-year-old Dangerous Dogs Act will finally come into force. The law was passed since June 2000, under the former UNC government and assented to in August 2000, according to the Trinidad Newsday newspaper. However, it was not proclaimed by the then president, ANR Robinson, which apparently must happen for it become enforceable. In the meantime, Trinidad and Tobago has seen several vicious attacks on persons by dangerous dogs, some of which have resulted in deaths. According to the newspaper also, the law was not proclaimed at the time of its assent, nor in the years following, because it had been deemed as “too draconian.” The newspaper did not state whether the law has since been revised. The law refers to what the newspaper called a “narrow class of dog” and it named Pitbull Terriers, Fila Brasileiros and Japanese Tosas or any dog bred from this class.

The same issue of the Trinidad Newsday, which carried the story about the Dangerous Dogs Act, also had a report on the same page about a young boy who had been mauled by a pitbull. According to the report, six-year-old Jeremiah Harripersadsingh had run into a neighbour’s yard to retrieve a ball when the neighbour’s pitbull attacked him biting into his head. He had been hospitalized for two weeks and needed major reconstructive surgery. A photograph of the child in his mother’s arms showed a still twisted mouth and scarred face. The report said that the pitbull owner had killed his dog following the attack and had been supportive of the child and his parents.

While the T&T law does not call for all pitbulls to be shot, after some years of its enforcement, the breeds of dog deemed dangerous will cease to exist in T&T. According to the law, dangerous dogs would have to be licensed annually for a fee of TT$500. The penalty for failing to license a dangerous dog is TT$50,000 as well as one year’s imprisonment. In addition, no person under the age of 18 would be allowed to own a dangerous dog and the owner would be required to have insurance in the sum of TT$250,000 per dog. The dog must also be kept under proper control in a single family residence and must be spayed or neutered and must not be sold. The legislation also halts the importation of dogs deemed dangerous. Such measures would eventually outlaw the dogs and since persons who cannot afford the insurance and annual licence would not be able to have them, there must be a plan for the safe care of a number of these dogs by the state. However, at the onset, what the act would do is make persons more responsible and it would allow the state to be aware of exactly how many of these breeds of dog exist.

Guyana is crying out for an amendment to its archaic Dogs Act. Dangerous dogs—pitbulls to be precise—have attacked several people over the years. Dogs most often make wonderful pets, however in certain circumstances, any type of dog can be dangerous. Even friendly dogs can inflict great harm in the wrong circumstances.

In April 2008, a pack of vicious dogs—said to include Pitbulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds—attacked and killed 53-year-old security guard Charles Roopchand on the Ogle Airstrip Road, East Coast Demerara, before turning on Desire London, the wife of Bishop Philbert London and resident of Goedverwagting, ECD who was out for a morning walk. London was rescued by former government minister Dr Dale Bisnauth who fended off the dogs with a stick. The owner of the dogs was charged with manslaughter but the charge was later dismissed.

A month later, on May 20, 2008, three pitbulls escaped from their owner’s yard in Forshaw Street and attacked a vagrant who was picking mangoes in an empty lot nearby, scalping him. The vagrant’s scalp was reattached in an operation. In June 2008 at Oleander Gardens, pitbulls attacked their caretaker as he was about to feed them. The man who had to be hospitalized, said he had been caring for the dogs for some three years and had no clue as to what may have fuelled the attack. The owner of the dogs later said that it was a pregnant female, who was cross because of her state, that had attacked the caretaker.  In November 2008, a hybrid of the pitbull breed attacked a six-year-old girl in Hadfield Street. Reports were that the child had ventured into a neighbour’s yard where she was attacked. The female owner of the dog had commiserated with the child’s parents and agreed to stand the cost of her medical treatment.

In August 2010, pitbulls attacked an East Ruimveldt man, leaving him disfigured. Reports were that the same group of dogs had previously attacked several persons who were mauled, including two Guyana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (GSPCA) workers, and had been ordered destroyed, but this was not carried out. There were several other incidents, the most recent being one earlier this year.

There have been calls following each of these incidents for pitbulls to be outlawed in Guyana. However, animal lovers have countered that these dogs are in fact usually quite harmless and docile. They have claimed that pitbulls only become vicious after they are trained to be such, and that any dog can in fact be trained to be vicious. In other words, the breed of dog ought not to be condemned.

Despite the numerous attacks of this nature, there are signs that more pitbulls are being bred and sold. There is quite a lucrative trade in pitbulls and they are advertised for sale at prices upwards of $50,000 each. It appears that these dogs are kept as status symbols rather than as pets or guard dogs. An early morning or late afternoon walk through several communities would reveal young men—few over the age of 21—out walking their dogs or in some cases being walked by the strong heavyset dogs which drag their owners along. One wonders whether these dogs, which are quite expensive to maintain, are getting the necessary care, particularly when it is apparent that some of the owners need care themselves.

If Guyana went the route of enacting legislation governing dangerous dogs, or moved to update its Dogs Act, it should include measures such as mandatory secure locations to house them and whopping fines if they are allowed to escape. If they escape and attack persons, compensation and fines should be automatic. Hence there would be no more wasting of the court’s time with drawn-out cases seeking to establish whether owners are responsible for what their pets/guard dogs do. The authorities should clamp down rigorously on dog fighting—one of the main reasons persons keep pitbulls and encourage their vicious streak—and the penalty for persons found involved in this practice should be jail time.