“Songshine was a kind of miracle. I was lucky enough to be part of making it happen.” — Gillian Moor
Veterinarian Dr Azizul Rahaman says the Dog Control Bill will be difficult to implement as 70 to 80 per cent of pothounds or “common dogs” now have pitbull in their gene pool.
He was speaking to the Sunday Guardian in a telephone interview after dog owners raised concerns over several amendments to the bill.
One major issue was that the court can empower police or a local authority to seize an owner's dog from their private property and destroy it once it is deemed a dangerous animal.
Rahaman said, “If they decide that dog is one of the Class A dogs, and the law provides for them to seize the dog with a proper search warrant, when the matter goes to court that's a different matter.
“I don't know who are the experts that are going to stand up in court and identify the particular breed and take it straight to the Privy Council, because you have to have scientific fact. Since the pitbull is generally a cross-breed dog and without definitive DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) testing, it's not a clear-cut case at all.
“Compounding the matter, right now about 70 or 80 per cent of all the pothounds or mongrel dogs in the country have pitbull genes in them.”
Rahaman, the owner of Jones Animal Clinic at La Seiva Road, Maraval, said while the $50,000 fine for veterinarians certifying the incorrect breed and being held liable for fraud was removed from the amended bill, there were many veterinarians like him who chose to err on the side of caution and not write a dog's breed on its registration card when it was brought in for treatment.
He said veterinarians would also be hardpressed to identify unfamiliar breeds of dogs entering the country, such as the Black Russian Terrier, as about 20 different breeds went into its development or the Tibetan Mastiff—much less police officers or court officials.
He said the logistics for housing, feeding and care of the seized animals out of a population of over 100,000 dogs for court exhibits also had to be considered.
Rahaman said the cases could also take years to be heard in court as they wouldn't be given priority over murder cases. He advocated that the Government look at a non-breed system such as what the US is adopting.
Training, DNA tests needed
Animal behaviourist Kristel-Marie Ramnath said there were 103 breeds within the Molosser or pitbull-type family, and while some, such as the American Pit Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Terrier, can be instantly recognised, others could not be so easily determined.
She said although most veterinarians can look at a dog and surmise it was a pit bull-type or had been bred from a pit bull-type dog, breed identification based on physical appearance is not a course offered in the veterinary curriculum in T&T and most of them would have difficulty stating which of the 103 breeds the dog was.
Ramnath said this would not necessarily be a problem, but for the purposes of legislation and certifying which dogs must be registered, the veterinarian would have to be certain of the breed.
She said veterinarians were hesitant to certify the breeds because they risked being held accountable for incorrectly certifying a dog.
Ramnath said, “At this point in time I doubt the local authorities and police would know how to visually identify a Class A dog out of a whole line-up of large pitbull-type dogs, but I'm assuming that the Government is anticipating this eventuality and will put training for breed identification on the list of things to do before the act is proclaimed.”
She said the specific breed may only become an issue if a dog bites or kills someone and the case goes to court, in which case DNA analysis will have to be done to prove or disprove the breed.
Dogs the last defence
Manager of Get-A-Pet supply store in Barataria, Goodwille Theodore, said guard dogs were an effective deterrent to bandits and they were in high demand because of the prevalence of crime in the society.
He said his house and those of his other familty members which were guarded by pitbulls and Rottweilers, were the only homes not broken into in the neighbourhood. There were many dog owners with the same mindset in the country, he said, judging by the large volume of dog food he sold.
He said, “Dogs are the last defence. Everybody is going to be afraid that something is going to happen to them and everybody wants protection. You're not getting adequate protection from the police, so you have to get protection for yourself, you're not getting gun licences and dogs are the only legal form of protection.”
Theodore said more consultations and input from stakeholders and dog owners were needed to go into the bill.