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Dog Control Act kicks in but T&T not yet ready — stakeholders

Monday, June 2, 2014

The law governing ownership of dangerous dogs comes into effect today but several issues, including insurance coverage for people who do not own homes, the type of microchip to be used and the process to retrieve a dog, once given up, remain unclear to citizens. Because of this uncertainty, the T&T Veterinary Association (TTVA) is urging Government to postpone the Dog Control Act 2014 until such issues have been properly resolved.



President-elect of the association, Dr Karla Georges, said the body had already met with the local government ministry and recommendations had been put forward, but these were yet to be implemented. “So far the local government minister has met with the vet association and with the T&T Society for the Prevention of Cruelty against Animals (TTSPCA) and other interest groups, but at this point there are several issues which have not really been clarified,” Georges told the T&T Guardian.


“One of the most important issues is the microchiping of the dogs. Up to now we do not know exactly who is doing it and whether there has been any decision on the particular type of microchip to be used.” Georges said. Others matters which need to be ventilated are the registration and training of the dogs. “We do not know who will be doing the registration, where it will be done or who will be collecting the monies for registration. Nobody seems to know what is going on,” she said.


“Are the corporations equipped to handle the influx of dogs? If an owner relinquishes a dog and wants to get it back what is the process? Do they have to fill out a form and if so to whom? Nobody even knows what the form is going to look like. These issues have not been addressed. “I believe the act should be been postponed until all these administrative issues have been properly clarified.”



With attacks against the public increasing in recent years, sparking huge debate about laws each time, Government felt it had to move on the act. The legislation separates dogs into two classes—A and B. Class A is considered as the more dangerous types of dogs—the Pitbull Terrier, Fila Brasileiro and the Japanese Tosa and any dog which is bred from any of these breeds. Class B dogs are all other types of dogs. 


Senior executive member of the association Dr Marc Driscoll, who echoed Georges’ statements, said another major issue was that of insurance. He said it was still not decided which companies would be handling the policies and what were the details of such policies. “At a recent meeting it was proposed that this be done on a homeowner’s insurance. But what about those who do not own their own property and are renting for example, they will not be able to get insurance. 


“After that particular meeting we have heard nothing since then...they have absolutely nothing in place,” Driscoll said. He recommended that the entire act be repealed and instead the Dogs Act of 1918 be revised. “Everything is already there in that act. What we need to do is to have it revised to reflect the current situation in terms of microchiping and increasing fines,” Driscoll said.


Insurance companies do not have separate policies to cover Class A breeds, says Baliram Sawh, vice president-general of the Association of T&T Insurance Companies (ATTIC). He said this insurance could be covered under their a homeowner’s policy, but it was still undecided which companies would be providing this. The only way you could get this type of coverage is via home ownership or if you’re a business owner, he added.


“There is no cover for dog ownership as a stand alone and as it is none of our members offer this,” Shaw said. The bill requires owners or keepers of Class ‘A’ Dogs to acquire a policy of not less than $250,000 for each dog owned or kept by the insured. 



The new law also places stringent controls on how such dogs are to be kept, in terms of the confinement of the dogs for the protection of the public. But Shaw said it was still uncertain how the act would be policed in terms of ensuring properties were fenced according to the specific height for instance. According to the bill, a policy of insurance shall be a policy which:
a) Is issued by a person who is an insurer; and 
b) Insures the owner and any authorised keeper specified in the policy against any liability which may be incurred by him in respect of the death of or injury to a person caused by a dog in relation to which the policy of insurance under this section is in force.


The South Breeders’ Association has also expressed concern about the act, saying any dog could be deemed dangerous. It added that certain dogs were extensively beaten and in some cases given steroids to become more aggressive. Association president Antonio Bonaparte said he was not against dog legislation but said it should be done across the board. “We want responsible dog ownership by everyone no matter the dog,” Bonaparte said.


Saying T&T has a growing and vibrant dog industry, Bonaparte said within recent times there have been some serious dog attacks. But the blame should not on the dogs, he said. “I agree with those who say, “Blame the deed and not the breed.’ In most cases dog attacks are due to ignorance and or negligence on the part of the owner,” Bonaparte said. “The populace has been calling for legislation regarding dangerous dogs. We support legislation because owners should be responsible for their animals.



“However, we believe that the legislation should not target specific breeds, which would result in exterminations of some lovely dog breeds.” Saying any dog can be dangerous in the hands of negligent or ignorant dog owners, he said in the US, for example, the majority of dog attacks that occur were from Cocker spaniels, Chihuahuas and Dachshunds. Bonaparte said these are often referred to as toy dogs and lumped into one category - pompecs. 


“What is needed is education on what makes a healthy, balanced dog. If owners would take time to understand dog behaviour, then we would drastically lower the amount of dog attacks that have been occurring across our nation,” he said. He said the selection of a dog breed should be a well thought out decision and it was also essential to understand the cost of dog ownership. Owning a dog, especially one deemed to be dangerous, is directly linked to the country’s social’s ills, he noted.


With the spiralling crime rate, low detection and the continued lack of public confidence in the Police Service, Bonaparte said this has driven many people to purchase pit bulls. “Everybody wants a pit bull in their yard and why is that? To protect themselves and their family. So we also have to look at this issue in the wider social content,” Bonaparte urged.



Expect some “dumping”
In a full page advertisement placed last week in the daily newspapers, the Ministry of Food Production said people who are unable to comply with the regulations could relinquish ownership of their dogs by placing them in certain shelters. Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj said Government has entered into an arrangement with the owners of private security firms for the renting of kennels. This, he added, would be done for six months in the first instance.


“By the end of the six months we expect everyone to have their dogs regularised. After the six months we would then examine the arrangement and take it from there. “But we anticipate that some people would be abandoning their dogs. We have put measures in place as best as we could. I am not saying there would not be some difficultly...we expect that,” Maharaj said.


He said people have been calling 338-8989, as stated on the ad, for more information on the shelters. This, the minister said, was a good indication that people were interested in complying with the law rather than wantonly dumping their animals.



Breed of dogs termed “Class A” covered by the legislation:
American Pit bull
American Bully
Japanese Tosa
Dogo Argentino
Fila Brasileiro
American Staffordshire



What are the requirements to own a dangerous (Class A) dog
Get the dog registered with the ministry of local government
Get a licence for the dog at the ministry of local government
Ensure that a vet inserts a prescribed microchip in the dog
Get the required insurance (250,000)  to ensure that if the dog attacks or injures someone the person can be compensated
Ensure property is properly fenced in accordance with the law
If taking the dog in a public space ensure it is on the required leash and muzzle and be officially trained 
—Ministry of the Attorney General



Incidents involving dangerous dogs:
March 25, 2014
Three pit bulls this afternoon attacked and mauled to death 83-year-old Sylvia Roberts was after she stepped she stepped out of her home at Archibald Street, Tunapuna to check her mail.



August 26, 2013
 Liliann Bunsie, 84, was mauled to death by a pit bull at La Seiva Road, Maraval. Her relatives tried to fend off the attack but the dog kept on biting.



August 25, 2011
 Jessie Boiselle was found dead in a ravine at the back of his home at  Clovis Trace, Maraval
 after being mauled by a pit bull. He was autistic boy.



Other maulings in 2011:
• Alexis Timothy, 39, a father of one and construction worker, was mauled by pit bulls outside his home at Ramjass Trace, San Juan, in July. The dogs belonged to a neighbour.

• Denise Rackal, 46, a security guard, was mauled to death by pit bulls in Chaguanas 

• Carl Joseph, a father of two, of Taylor Avenue, Diego Martin, was attacked at a scrap yard in Four Roads, Diego Martin. Police shot the dogs while they were attacking Joseph. 

• Ezekiel Renne-Cambridge attacked by two dogs while walking with his grandmother near his home in Palmiste, San Fernando. 

• Also in February, a 13-year-old Tobago girl was badly bitten by a pit bull while on her way home. 



The Act

The Act was passed in the Senate in March this year by 15 votes for, 8 against and five abstentions. All 15 Government senators voted in favour of the measure, while all six PNM senators, along with two Independents—Senators Elton Prescott and Ian Roach—voted against and five Independents—Senators Subhas Ramkhelawan, Helen Drayton, Rolph Balgobin, Dhanayshar Mahabir and David Small — abstained.


From the bill
• If a Class A dog escapes, its owner is liable for any death, injury or damage it causes
• If the dog injures someone, its owner or keeper is liable to a fine of $100,000 and five years in prison. 
• If the dog kills someone or causes their death, the owner or keeper is liable to a $200,000 fine and imprisonment for ten years.
• If the dog kills someone who was not provoking it or committing an offence, the court can order that the dog is seized and destroyed. 
• Owners who abandon them are liable to a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for a year.
• Must be trained by a certified trainer, or the owner is liable to a $50,000 fine and a year in prison.
• The owner must display signs to identify places where a Class A dog is kept, or face a fine of $10,000.


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