A DOG warden behind the pit bull amnesty in Northern Ireland - the first such amnesty in the UK - has said critics of the measure should ‘think again’ after the death of five-year-old Ellie Lawrenson who was attacked by her uncle’s pit bull ‘type’ dog in St Helens in Liverpool.
Nigel Devine from Ballymena Borough Council was speaking as a month-long amnesty in the council area begins.
Owners of pit bulls, which are illegal to breed and own under the Dangerous Dogs Act, will not be prosecuted if they sign them over to the council. The council hopes the scheme will make the area safer by removing the dogs from the streets.
As reported by OUR DOGS late last year, the amnesty was brought in following a recent incident in Randalstown Forest - in an adjoining council area - where a pet dog was mauled to death by a roaming pit bull-type dog.
Mr Devine said: ‘The people who are criticising what I am doing should think again. This attack in England is just why we have brought in the amnesty. We don't want such a thing to happen here because pit bulls are unpredictable.
‘We were fortunate we weren't dealing with something similar when a pit bull attacked a family out walking in Randalstown Forest recently, except their pet dog gave its life to save them.’
Recently, a 17-year-old girl was prosecuted in Ballymena for owning a pit bull and was fined.
Under legislation in Northern Ireland magistrates do not have the discretion to spare pit bulls from being humanely destroyed and the animal in that case - 'Bailey' - was put down.
Ballymena Council is humanely destroying any pit bulls that are handed over. This policy has drawn criticism from some people who say it is unfair to kill the dogs, with some suggesting neutering is a better way forward.
Two pit bulls left in to the council before the amnesty started have been humanely destroyed. Mr Devine said that so far he had identified two other pit bulls, but gave the owner the option of handing them in during the amnesty to spare being taken to court.
The scheme has also meant some people who thought their dog may have been a pit bull can rest easily - after examination, 12 out of 14 suspected dogs were not the illegal breed.
Currently in Northern Ireland anyone owning a pit bull can face a fine of up to £2,000 and up to two years in jail if convicted.
The Dangerous Dogs Act, which restricts ownership of pit bull terriers throughout the United Kingdom, is enforced more severely in Northern Ireland than in the mainland UK. Magistrates and judges in England and Wales can allow owners of pit bull ‘type dogs that are found to be ‘of the type’ to keep them, as long as they comply with the terms of the DDA and register the dogs, whilst also having them tattooed, microchipped and neutered.
Pit bulls are not illegal in the Republic of Ireland and it is believed that is the reason the breed is more common in Ulster than some other parts of the UK, as several make their way across the border between Eire and northern Ireland.
Mr Devine said that he had received hate emails from people objecting to the month-long amnesty which had been sent from people in America, Canada and central Europe.
‘I have already received around 20 mails since the amnesty began on January 1,’ he said.
‘Obviously some people don't agree with what we're doing and they don't seem to understand that these dogs are illegal over here.’