A GOVERNMENT Minister dismissed calls for leniency in a debate on Breed Specific Legislation in Bermuda. The Government is consulting the public and interested parties but Environment Minister Neletha Butterfield vowed that the law will stay.
She said similar laws were in place in 18 countries including the UK, Germany, The Caymans and Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda's Dangerous Dog Act - based closely on the UK’s own DDA - had been enacted to stop a tragedy.
Speaking during the debate on her ministry, she told the Bermudian House of Assembly: "This is an extremely emotive issue. It is an issue jurisdictions worldwide have been struggling with for years. Passions run on both sides."
Ms Butterfield dismissed calls for leniency by anti-BSL campaigners by saying that the cry of "punish the deed, not the breed" was nothing more than a catchy sound-bite. "Try telling that to the mother of a maimed child – 'Don't worry dear, we are going to punish the deed'."
She said the restrictions were brought into effect last year at the right time for the right reasons. "The Department was concerned at the increasing number of large breed dogs being imported into Bermuda and the potential for crossbreeding these animals with others of a naturally aggressive nature.
"Numerous complaints were being received both by the Department and the Minister of the day."
She added that her predecessor Dennis Lister had been right to take action before a tragic incident occurred said Ms Butterfield.
"I thank him for taking the responsible steps to prevent the deed – not wait until someone got hurt and then punish the deed."
The Minister claimed that the Government had always intended to review and refine the policy in light of new information and in consultation with the ‘stakeholders’ (i.e. voters).
She reported that written submissions have been gathered and the department is setting up meetings with breeders, dog clubs, vets and others. The first meeting took place on March 5 and was attended by seven representatives from five different organisations.
Good ideas had been put forward but she said those who wanted to soften the law by bringing in more laws, tests and regulations were ‘barking up the wrong tree.’
Those who flouted the law would do so continue to do so said the Minister and new initiatives would require a massive budget to police.
"Enforcement and policing alone are not the answer – although Government has responded in this regard too, with the employment of two additional wardens in 2001 and one more planned for April 2004 to deal not just with dogs but with all animal and feral animal problems."
She said dog lovers who said it was the owner and not the dog who is the problem were partly right.
"However there is a tonne of reliable evidence to support the claim that certain breeds have an innate aggression that makes them potentially dangerous, however responsible the owner might be. 18 other countries think so."
"Frankly I find 'punish the deed, not the breed' is about as hollow as the (US) National Rifle Association's claim 'that it's not guns that kill, it's people' every time there is a multiple shooting in a Midwest high school.
"In my view, the equation is relatively simple. Fewer guns equals fewer deaths by shooting.
Similarly, fewer potentially dangerous dogs in our community lessons the chance of an unfortunate accident."
She said the restriction on certain breeds wasn't perfect but had been the right thing to do at the right time and would now be refined.
"We make no apologies for putting public safety first, foremost and ahead of the interest of dog owners.
"According to one web site there are 610 breeds of dog. We have imposed restrictions on 23 – that leaves 587 breeds from which to choose your household pet."