Tougher dogs law rushed through
By Amanda Dale
Anyone wanting to own a dog must have their property vetted prior to being granted a licence, according to a new Act approved in the House of Assembly last night.
The Dogs Act 2008 was passed yesterday by MPs despite calls from Shadow Environment Minister Cole Simons for further consultation with the community.
Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Justice Mark Pettingill also asked Government to amend Clause 18 of the Act by withdrawing the laying of poison in cases where "there is no other practicable way to control to stray dogs in a particular area", but the Bill was passed without amendment.
Mr. Simons objected to the Bill because he said it was only tabled a week ago and so stakeholders in the community, such as dog owners, vets and kennel clubs, would not have had time to review it properly.
The Opposition MP said: "My objection is that this piece of legislation was only tabled on Friday and, according to Parliamentary procedure, it needs at least two weeks to be reviewed.
"This Government can't railroad this type of legislation which is far-reaching, without proper dialogue with the community. I understand the vets haven't had the opportunity to discuss it with the kennel clubs yet.
"Because we have not had the time to discuss it with the community I ask that this matter is deferred until the next sitting."
Mr. Simons said that because of the timeframe, Opposition MPs would refuse to debate the Bill. He said: "For the 9,000 people who own dogs in this country, we in this Party will not be debating this Act. We think the community needs to be better educated, and the dog owners, vets and kennel clubs all need more time to review it.
"We refuse to debate this issue based on principle, and that we have not had the chance to discuss it with stakeholders who have not had chance to see the legislation."
But Speaker Stanley Lowe said: "It all falls within the rules of the House, that it can be debated. Under the provision of Rule 32 (3) the Government can proceed with it. The Minister can proceed."
Introducing the Act to MPs, Environment Minister El James said: "The 1978 Dogs Act contributed to the fact that Bermuda has not suffered a horrific fatality as in other jurisdictions, but despite the 1978 Act, we must remain vigilant and ensure there is not this sort of tragedy."
He said that Environmental Protection staff and dog wardens had all noticed cases of illegal breeding on the Island.
Mr. James added: "Bermuda's present dog legislation also lacks quick and effective handling of dog offences. The shortcomings make enforcement problematic. Also, there's no legislative framework to give the Minister necessary powers to determine how the remaining dogs with an owner who owns more than two should be dealt with.
"The Dogs Act 2008 has adopted many of the positive provisions of the 1978 Act, but the identification of dogs - this will involve the microchipping of all dogs. At the moment two-thirds of our dogs in Bermuda are microchipped, and we intend to get the other third microchipped."
Mr. James said: "The Dogs Act 1978 was amended in 1985 and 2000 and, as a result, the 1978 Act has begun to resemble the roof of an old house which has undergone too many touch-ups, and a new roof is needed.
"We will bring new provisions to make the legislation more efficient and comprehensive."
Describing the various clauses to the House, Mr. James said: "No longer will a dog licence be issued to any adult who fills out an application form. Licences will be denied to unsuitable adults with unsuitable premises and an unsuitable record."
In terms of ID tags, Mr. James said dogs were required to display their tags "in all public places", adding: "This is a relaxation of the current Act which said it should be shown at all times. This law was unenforceable and so was changed."
The Minister said a ban on under-18s owning a dog and a limit of two dogs per owner would continue, but that the Director of Environmental Protection had "discretion" on issuing permits for more.
Under Clause Nine, all brokering, boarding and guarding operations will have to be licensed. The Act also aims to prevent over-breeding by ensuring a bitch has rest periods between pregnancies to ensure 'she will not become a machine".
The Act also prohibits the use of spiked collars and the tethering of dogs with large chains "big enough to hold yachts".
Mr. James said: "The weight of these chains around the necks of dogs is unnecessary and is cruel, so we have moved to put an end to these practices".
Clause 18 pertains to the destruction of a dog seen attacking a person or domestic animal, and includes provision for setting traps, tranquilisers and poison.
The Act also lays out provisions for dealing with strays. If dogs are not claimed by their owners within four days however, the Act will protect animals from being used in animal experimentation and vivisection.
Regarding dangerous dogs, Mr. James said: "The Government and courts have a responsibility to protect the public from dangerous dogs, so when a dog has been a threat to public safety the court may order the destruction of the dog or that it is kept in such a manner that the court sees fit."
The Dogs Act 2008 also gives officers the power to seize a dog by making an application to court for an emergency order. And it authorises officers (Police, animal wardens or veterinary officers) to enter homes and premises where an offence has been committed. Officers must however, give 24 hours notice to gain entry to a private dwelling.
To obstruct an enforcement officer is classed as an offence, and failure to provide name, address and produce a licence is also an offence.
Mr. Pettingill called on Government to amend the Act by taking out the provision for the laying poison, which he described as "an archaic and unacceptable measure in this day and age".
Raising the prospect of "dead cats and dead children", the Shadow Justice Minister said: "Laying poison around the place is a dangerous practice." He said there were other ways of controlling dogs.
However, Mr. James said it was only to be considered as an "extreme measure".
"I would like it for extreme measures and I would like to leave it there," said Mr. James.
Deputy Speaker Dame Jennifer Smith asked: "I want to know, will a site visit be made before the issuance of a licence?."
Mr. James said: "The individuals who apply to own a dog, the premises will be inspected. The person would need to call the animal wardens in the Department (of Environmental Protection)."
He said the Act would be phased in over time.
"We will have different commencement days of the Act to ease in implementation, for example, we recognise time will be needed for microchipping of all dogs," said Mr. James.
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