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Outrage at Ballymena ‘pit bull massacre’

A COUNCIL in Northern Ireland is awaiting approval by Councillors of what is being described as a ‘Pit Bull Amnesty’, but which opponents are deriding as a ‘Pit Bull Massacre’.

Ballymena Council members have agreed to throw their weight behind the UK's first ever ‘Pit Bull Amnesty’, which will see dogs fitting the description of the banned breed being rounded up and put down.

The moves follow a recent attack by a pit bull type breed in County Antrim, which is said to have been the trigger for the proposal. It is believed that the ‘amnesty’ is planned to be in place for four weeks, from January 2007, although it is understood some council members are calling for a longer time period in which to collect as many dogs as possible.

Councillor. Declan O'Loan commented: ‘It is an excellent proposal. It is dealing with something that is a serious problem. It is a very practical way to deal with it.’

The controversial plans, which mirror a scheme that took place in Kansas, USA, last year, have upset many, including veterinary professionals and charity workers.

Chris Laurence, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director, said: ‘While we would never condone law-breaking by encouraging the continuation of a banned breed, we are totally opposed to euthanasia simply on the grounds of a dog’s breed. Any dog who is actually a danger to the public, whatever breed they are, should be properly trained and kept under control, and suitable punishments and deterrents given to the owner for their dog’s unacceptable behaviour. But we oppose the destruction of any dog simply because of his breed. A more humane and effective method of reducing the number of unwanted dogs generally is neutering, thus preventing further litters, and would also tackle the problem in the long-term.’

Amada Dunckley, of Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue commented: ‘We are appalled with the Council’s idea of a ‘Pit Bull Amnesty’. It will do nothing to address any problems resulting from irresponsible dog owners and only target innocent dogs, causing trauma for those caught up in the fiasco, public funds could be far better spent.

‘We urge the council to rethink their decision and look into the facts; no dog should be deemed dangerous and put to death based on its physical appearance.’

However, Nigel Devine, Antrim’s Borough Dog Warden, defended the amnesty, explaining the reasoning behind the scheme, which, he says, will actually aid the welfare of many dogs in the area.

‘The first thing you have to be aware of is that the Amendment to the Dangerous Dogs Act, which allows pit bull ‘type’ dogs to be registered and rehomed, does not apply in Northern Ireland,’ said Mr Devine. Northern Ireland has a serious problem with pit bulls that are bred for fighting and come across the border from Southern Ireland.

‘In fact, a lot of these dogs are bred in the UK mainland and are openly sold as ‘AmStaff Bull Terriers’ or ‘Irish Staffords’, but they are, in fact, pure-bred pit bull terriers.

‘I’ve personally notified the British Home Office of one particular supplier, but they’ve done nothing about it.

‘I’ve also asked the Dogs Trust for an alternative to what the council are proposing, but they haven’t replied to me yet. Basically, it’s all very well to talk about neutering the dogs, but the people who keep these dogs for fighting aren’t going to surrender them for neutering. Why should they want them neutered? What use would they be for breeding then? Why would they want them microchipped. Out of all the pit bull strays I’ve picked up this year, only two were microchipped. The law in Northern Ireland requires all dogs to be registered and licensed, but obviously these weren’t.’

Mr Devine added that several dog owners in the area have responded to the amnesty by coming forward to have their dogs checked by Mr Devine to see if they are pit bulls or simply crossbreeds. Several of the people were fearful that their dogs were ‘pit bull types’, having bought them as crossbreeds.

‘One lady came to me with her dog that was sold to her as an English Bull Terrier cross’ but was worried that it was a pure pit bull, and would have to have it put down.’ said Mr Devine. ‘I was able to reassure her that it was a crossbreed, so she was saved from having to have it put down.

‘Five or six other people have come forward to have their dogs checked, and none of them were pit bulls, so that’s six dogs that might have been destroyed unnecessarily, or kept totally in the home because their owners were scared they’d be seized as pit bulls. One person told me he only walked his dog late at night because he was afraid it was an illegal pit bull, so I told him that it was a crossbreed and now he could take it for proper walks during the day instead of shutting it away indoors. So you could argue that for the small number of dogs that might be put down as unwanted pit bull terriers, we’re saving a lot more and reassuring their owners.’

Mr Devine added that he had told Ballymena councillors that the dog was the victim in such cases. ‘The people who breed and fight these dogs don’t care about them,’ he declared. ‘They only care about the money in their back pockets.’

Phil Buckley, External Affairs Manager of the Kennel Club told OUR DOGS: ‘We are more than a little concerned regarding this recent initiative, not least from a welfare perspective. The authorities are attempting to 'bracket' dogs alongside knives and firearms and we do not see how this campaign will succeed. We believe that 'weapon' amnesties have met with a mixed response from the public in the past, but who would drop their dog off to be destroyed in this manner?

‘We wouldn't think that the rogues who are already clearly flouting the legislation will take any notice and this will only spell heartache for the duped owners who have obtained pit bulls, thinking they are some other type (as mentioned in the article). Also, who will monitor the welfare of the dogs in question? There must be better ways to enforce Dangerous Dog legislation and the irresponsible owners should be brought to book, rather than the dogs.’