Opinion: Time To End Breed-Specific Legislation

April 16, 2015

[Opinion column written by Jonathan Starling]

I would like to commend the group that has launched a petition calling for an end to breed-specific legislation in Bermuda.

They quite rightly point out many of the flaws inherent to breed-specific legislation, and stress that no one breed is inherently more violent than another – the key is in the training and socialisation that the dog [or dogs] in question are exposed to.

More importantly, the breed-specific legislation that we have drives pitbulls [and other prohibited breeds] ‘underground’ risking inbreeding and reduced access to appropriate training and socialisation – which actually increase the chances of these dogs to become dangerous.

The focus of dog control should be on ‘the deed’ and not on ‘the breed’, ensuring better training and control of these animals – regardless of their breed – and making sure they are cared for humanely rather than abused or left in isolation and without medical care.

For a bit of context, it was due to the problems of breed-specific legislation that the American Bar Association called for an end to breed-specific legislation in August 2012 [link]. They produced a detailed review [PDF] of the problems inherent to breed-specific legislation, and noted that most such laws were indicative of what they called ‘panic policymaking’ based on emotive reaction rather than rational evidence-based review.

Our Dogs Act is antiquated and in desperate need of updating. In December 2014, I recommended some of the reforms to it, and I hope that this is something that parliament can act on shortly.

One particularly disturbing aspect of our existing breed-specific legislation is that they can be abused to erode civil liberties. Sections 13 and 27 of the Act allow for premises to be searched under the suspicion of containing a banned breed without the safeguards that Section 8 of the Police and Criminal Act 2006 have concerning search warrants.

In other words, the authorities can enter premises without a search warrant as outlined in the Police and Criminal Act – an obvious and dangerous loophole that undermines civil liberties.

I encourage citizens to read through the detailed review of breed-specific legislation provided by the American Bar Association as well as the existing legislation in Bermuda, and to push for an end to breed-specific legislation in Bermuda.

Our existing Dogs Act is in desperate need of amending – and by signing this petition one can help push for more progressive and humane legislation concerning dogs in Bermuda.

- Jonathan Starling

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Comments (20)

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  1. Ringmaster says:

    In your mind dogs seem to have more rights than PRC Holders. Write an Opinion piece about the rights of PRC holders to have the vote. Many have been in Bermuda for longer than you have been alive you but don’t have the benefit of falling within certain dates to be Bermudian. Do these people have rights? Why should you have the right to vote in Bermuda and Scotland yet tax paying PRC have no votes in Bermuda?

    • Micro says:

      Why don’t you right an opinion piece on that matter?

    • Christine M. Hoskins says:

      Ringmaster: Are you supporting the proposition that discrimination against any living sentient being is wrong? or are you just focussing on discrimination against PRC’s?

      If just PRC’s you are quite correct but wrong forum.

      If all living sentient beings .. you have my support.

  2. Lois Frederick says:

    I am happy the way it is thank you.

  3. Real Deal says:

    Save the bullies!

  4. Family Man says:

    The focus of dog control should be on ‘the deed’ and not on ‘the breed’

    By the time you get to that point, that lovable family pet has ripped the face of the kid next door.

    Pit bulls are dangerous animals, but then Jonathan has never let facts get in the way of a good rant.

    • Christine M. Hoskins says:

      The issue is a human issue not a dog issue. It is how humans treat and raise the dogs. It is not breed specific. There are numerous studies on each side of the fence each of us could cite them for days. But when you get down to brass tacks … no “loveable family pet” will rip off a face of the kid next door, if it is raised with respect and care.

      • Zevon says:

        You see, Christine, that is just rubbish. There was a case in Bermuda recently of a family pet pitbull who, out of the blue, killed a neighbour’s pet. There are countless examples of these dogs attacking without warning. The owners invariably contend the dog was a well-raised”family pet”. With an inherently dangerous dog, that is irrelevant.

        • Billy Boy says:

          Dogs don’t attack without warning. There are always signs

    • Onion says:

      Pitbulls are still responsible for half of local reported dog attacks and the same is true in the US and Canada. When pitbulls attack they often hospitalise people and injure or kill in a way other dogs can’t.

      They’re inherently dangerous…

      Most importantly of all is that banning the breed has worked in Bermuda. Dog attacks are way down and I don’t know why people would want to take it back to being the way it was.

      Starling has a unique ability to ignore the basic facts and focus on the irrelevant. At the end of the day, our legislation works to keep people safe. And that’s what matters.

      • Billy Boy says:

        We all know that pits account for half or more of attacks because they are the number one owned breed, more people have them then any other breed. therefore statistics can be misleading. The banning of pits have very little to do with the reason dog attacks appear to be down.

        I say that because -

        The ban has been in place about twelve years, but we still have a large population of young pits on the island. Pits are still so common on the island that I see them on a daily basses and so common that just this week there was an article in the news media of a missing pit being reunited with its owner. So I’d have to ask why do attacks seem low if we still have so many still on the island.

        However I do believe the number of pits may have dropped, but I believe it is more because of before the ban most people could get one for free and if you did pay for it, you would pay between $100 – $400. Now days you’d pay between $3,000.00 – $4,000.00. The average person doesn’t want to pay that much for any dog. I think it may also be down because more people understand that having a pit increases your chances of being prosecuted.

        I don’t think attacks have dropped because I personally know of far too many attacks by other breeds that just don’t make headlines. I know of dogs attacking their owners causing major damage and dogs attacking children but it just doesn’t make the news. I also know the authorities know about some of these attacks.

        I also ask why do attacks seem to be down when we have other elite breeds such as the Malinois, Dutch Shepherd, German Shepherd and a few other breeds on this island. The Malinois and Dutch Shepherd are some of the most serious breeds there are. Don’t believe me, then go find out why they are the number one choice for police, swat, army or any other special force. I have seen with my own eyes what a Malinois does to a pit in a dog fight and I know some police have seen it too.

  5. Accurate says:

    We ban firearms here because we can’t trust that people will be responsible in their ownership of an item that is so potentially lethal. And quite rightly so – sorry USA.
    You argument is an absurdity in that you can no more make “sure (that) they are cared for humanely rather than abused or left in isolation and without medical care” than you could ensure that someone wouldn’t stand up in the middle of a movie theater and empty a clip into the audience at random – sorry Denver.
    Statistics showing breed type relative to human deaths by mauling are incontestable. They show us that some people in fact can never be trusted to treat their large and powerful dogs with the kind of love and care that would mitigate the aggressive nature that is in fact probably the main reason that the breed exists. And for the record I don’t dispute that love and care can do exactly this.
    What would you, Mr. Starling, say to the traumatized owner/relative of a savaged/dead pet or person – oops sorry! we really should have ensured that the frightening monster you were just confronted with was treated better as a puppy? We’ll do better next time by golly, and we darn sure won’t be trampling on any pet owners civil rights whilst we do so you can be sure!
    No Mr. Starling you can not ensure now – nor will you ever be able to – that every owner of a known aggressive and powerful breed of dog is doing all the right things to socialize or if that fails even to contain the known weapon they possess.
    They must stay banned – end of argument.

    • Christine M. Hoskins says:

      “Statistics showing breed type relative to human deaths by mauling are incontestable.”

      Sorry WRONG, many of these so called statistics are skewered by individuals who choose to own breeds perceived to be more aggressive and encourage that type of behaviour. Direct me to studies that remove this factor and I’ll pay more mind.

      • Accurate says:

        You have quite spectacularly countered your own point Ms. Hoskins and I’m afraid your myopia is just as bad as Mr. Starlings. The people you refer to can not be MADE to be responsible owners retroactively and therefore the statistics on injuries and deaths are very real and very incontestable. Removing valid factors from studies invalidates their results.
        If you could remove the crazy from gun owners there would be no Sandy Hook.
        You can’t fix stupid – or dead.

  6. Jr Smith says:

    thank you…

  7. Zevon says:

    His idea is that there is nothing inherently dangerous about a particular breed; it’s all to do with how they are trained by humans.
    Errant nonsense. That’s like saying there is nothing dangerous about a bear, until it is trained by humans.
    And if someone doesn’t want their “civil liberties” impacted, Jonathan, maybe they shouldn’t keep illegal dogs.

  8. sandman says:

    The alternative to breed specific legislation is extremely intrusive regulation of how dog owners socialize and discipline their pets, as well as regular inspections of all dog owners to ensure their dogs are safe.

    It would be a much greater intrusion on liberty than banning particular breeds.

  9. aceboy says:

    A PLP supporter calling on the OBA for more progressive and humane legislation concerning dogs in Bermuda, contrary to the legislation implemented by the PROGRESSIVE Labour Party?

    Why wait until now for this? The ban was put in place in 2003.

    “In other words, the authorities can enter premises without a search warrant as outlined in the Police and Criminal Act – an obvious and dangerous loophole that undermines civil liberties.”

    So the law was badly drafted?

    I am shocked. No wait….I’m not.