There was a furore when the Government announced that it was piloting the Dangerous Dogs Act. Talk show hosts and hostesses were quick to join the discussion since it replaced the old, archaic news about corruption, crime and union matters. It is indeed a bill that evokes emotion from two major parties—people who were appalled by the mutilation and recent attacks by dogs and, on the other hand, people who really love dogs. Each party, of course, had genuine concerns. But in piloting a bill, it is important to look at the problems and then find appropriate solutions. There is no doubt that there must be sympathies extended to those people who were mauled and the relatives who lost their loved ones as a result of vicious attacks by dogs. Attacks of such a nature were never witnessed before on the island of Trinidad and Tobago. Such attacks must have been painful and will no doubt leave emotional scars on those victims who survived. Some people suggest that the attacks were unwarranted and the victims were generally unprepared. These attacks, indeed, presented an untenable situation for the Government who had no option but to try to regularise the situation. In introducing such a policy, however, it seems that the Government—in an attempt to show its strength and perhaps compassion—has moved to adopt what seems draconian measures (perhaps not to the victims or relative of victims) in order to reduce incidents of mauling.
These measures include:
(a) Compulsory insurance of $250,000 (TT) to cover each dog;
(b) Preventative measures such as fencing of compounds;
(c) Sterilisation of certain breeds.
It is important to note that the act targeted specific breed of dogs—one of them pitbulls or dogs that were derived from the breed described as ‘terriers.’ It is not known why this particular breed of dog was targeted since in one incident, the dogs that attacked and killed a victim were actually the breed known as the Alsatian. Perhaps it was because of the stigma attached to the ‘pits’ which are described as ‘killers’. But unknown to many, pitbulls (there is no breed of dog called pitbull but rather the ‘pit’ is a mixture of a number of breeds) is generally docile unless taught to attack. Many owners describe these dogs as extremely intelligent and docile. Far more aggressive than the pits are the Doberman and in fact the Rottweiler has the most powerful bite force of all the breeds. Even the common ‘pot’ hound can be aggressive. Why did the dogs attack? There were obviously a number of reasons for the attacks. Firstly, the dogs were irritated or angry. Usually smells, noises, disruptions trigger reactions in all animals. Secondly, the places or the yards were not fenced or secured. Thirdly, many of the dogs were more than likely taught aggression and finally, they were allowed to roam in packs. These factors combined led to people being mauled and in more than two cases being killed. While there are a number of people in Trinidad and Tobago who really love dogs, it should be recalled that many others rely on dogs to provide security. As crime started spiralling out of control more and more, people sought to secure their properties and discovered our old friend the ‘pot hound’ just could not protect the premises any more. The thieves were no longer the common neighbourhood boys who came to steal mangoes or cherries. These thieves were criminals who had the weaponry to wipe out the common ‘pot hound’. Moreover, if one would recall, recorded crimes were often brutal and dehumanising.
As the crime situation escalated, the breeding of dogs, aggression training and the increase in security firms and security equipment became big businesses. Not to be left out, the drug traffickers, the pushers, the thieves now used the ‘pit’ because of its look as status symbols. More often than not, this translated in tying the animals and leading them without muzzles for all to see. The policy of the Dangerous Dogs Act is no doubt a reaction to the killings and maulings that took place. There can be and should be no excuse for these violent actions. But while the focus is directed to the dogs, what should have taken place is that the blame for these acts should reside with the owners. Why were the premises often unsecured? Why were the dogs not muzzled when they were in the road way? Why were the dogs allowed to roam in packs? These are many other questions should have indicated that the owners were the delinquent parties. The debates on how one determines if a dog is a ‘pit’ or partly ‘pit’ is of course debatable. What will clearly emerge, however, is if the act is enforced in its present form it will be most draconian and what we will see in the not too distinct future is the wiping out of an entire breed. What is expected to happen, too, is increasingly if owners are to pay the high cost of insurance we will expect to see more and more dogs abandoned on the road way. It is really dehumanising now to see the number of dogs abandoned on the road ways and the dumps and we must brace ourselves as the situation may worsen. Then, without police protection—and since the population is largely abandoned to the criminal element—one will expect that this country—without our normal security system—the dog, may very well become unliveable. Doubtless, we need to protect our citizens but at the same time, we expect as rational human beings that we must also protect our four legged friends. Perhaps, what should happen is that before this bill is piloted the drafters should re-examine its content to ensure that it presents a compromise between the people who were the victims and people who are protesting in order to prevent a breed from being made extinct. While the need for insurance may be justified, perhaps the drafters need to relook the quantum of the insurance. In addition, one wonders, who will be the ones to enforce the act. Will it be the police?