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Sunday, April 17, 2011
Martin George

The sad scenario of four-year-old Ezekiel Renee Cambridge who was mauled by two dogs this week and had to be rushed to hospital for emergency surgery brings to the fore again our lackadaisical and lacklustre approach to proclaiming and implementing laws in our land. From reports, the child’s back and abdomen were ripped out as he was knocked to the ground by the dogs in their frenzy. What appears from the news reports is that the dogs were able to escape from their yard and proceed upon this vicious attack, some nine months after another attack had been made on another young boy by one of these very dogs.

How could the owner of these dogs, in circumstances such as those, not realise the problem posed by the unrestrained, unmuzzled presence of these dogs out on the streets? Would it not have been incumbent on this owner, after the first attack, less than a year ago, to ensure that these dogs were properly and securely contained within her yard and that they not be allowed onto the streets without muzzles and leads? By all accounts it appears that she is sending the dogs away nine months too late, since she says that she is now sending them off to live on a ranch in Penal. So, instead of dealing with the issue, it appears that the problem is being moved to Penal. Heaven help them if there are any little children living nearby in Penal. While we are all for persons having their pets, to whom they may be the sweetest and most loving and gentle animals, if these “pets” have a propensity to attack and maul other human beings then it becomes a serious societal problem.

In the United Kingdom, after a spate of attacks on persons by Rottweilers and Pitbull Terriers, they introduced legislation in 1991 which formed the basis of their Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. This Act was later amended in 1997 but the gist of it was to name four types of dogs being the Pitbull Terrier; Japanese Tosa; Dogo Argentino and Fila Brasileiro. This is more than we have in our Dangerous Dogs Act which limits it to three of the four by leaving out the Dogo Argentino. Another area in which the UK legislation differs from ours is the fact that their legislation contemplates and covers cross breeds of the above four types of dogs and they thus categorise their Dangerous dogs by types and not by breed. This means that whether a dog is prohibited under the Act in the UK will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics and whether they match the description of a prohibited type as assessed by the Court through evidence presented to it.

This is a more practical approach than the rigidity of our Dangerous Dogs Act No 32 of 2000 which by Section 3 thereof, limits the definition of “dangerous dog” to mean, a dog or bitch of the type listed in the Schedule and it lists the three as above and omits the Dogo Argentino. Now while this is another difference, the most fundamental difference between the UK Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and our Dangerous Dogs Act 2000 is that their legislation is in force and actively used while ours lies dormant, unproclaimed and unused. So there is absolutely no basis for active comparison between the two types of legislation because while one is actively patrolling and guarding the conduct of owners in the UK, ours remains a toothless bulldog, that is not even a “bad in yard” as is said in the local parlance.

Proclamation issues aside, we have to consider just how effective this legislation would be even if proclaimed. The UK experience has shown that there have been several challenges with the application and prosecution of offenders under their legislation. There have been complaints about the extra strictness of the legislation which leads to results at times which the public found to be unfair. The most famous and high profile of these was the case of the Pitbull Terrier, Dempsey. In this case Dempsey was being taken out for a walk with his muzzle on and started acting up like he was ill. His muzzle was removed so as to allow him the opportunity to vomit and an observant police officer saw the unmuzzled Dempsey and immediately pressed charges. 

Three months later, the Court made an Order for Dempsey to be euthanised under the law and put to sleep. The owner appealed and then the entire case began to spin out of control with animal rights activists and protesters on both sides of the divide voicing their opinions. Film stars got involved too, with some offering a home for Dempsey outside of the UK so as to have the dog escape the sentence of death which hung over its head. The case went all the way through the Appeals process and was eventually won by the owner on a legal technicality, but the point is that their laws are so strict that just for having a muzzle off, this dog was ordered to be killed. It hadn’t attacked anybody, it hadn’t threatened anybody, yet here in T&T we continue to fiddle while Rome burns. Maybe the fiddlers should change their tune and get permission from Anslem Douglas to play for us his monster hit, Who Let the Dogs Out?


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