Not a moment too soon. This must be the main response to the Attorney General's decision to have the Dangerous Dogs Act, assented to since August 11, 2000, proclaimed on August 1, 2012.
Reservations remain. The Trinidad and Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among another voices, has queried why the legislation still specifies three particular breeds or any dog bred from these. Any big dog can be dangerous, and German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans — just to name the better-known large breeds — can maim and kill just as effectively as the pitbull terriers, Japanese Tosas, and Fila Brasileiros which are listed in the Act as "dangerous dogs".
The stereotype attached to pitbulls, for example, is not borne out by expert tests of these animals' temperament, and the disproportionate number of attacks on humans by them may be a consequence of both the number of such dogs in T&T and the type of person who owns them.
If the Act is proclaimed in its present form, then only the standard penalties would apply to owners of other breeds, and the existing law has proved ineffectual. Even so, the Act, never perfect, still represents a major advance in providing a basis for continuing efforts to regulate the handling and safekeeping of such animals.
The long-delayed proclamation may still be seen as moving too fast by the TTSPCA and animal-rights activists. Their input between now and August, however, would be helpful in crafting the regulations to be enforced by the Local Government Ministry. The AG's office should ensure that their suggestions, where practical and in line with legal principles, are taken on board. This, hopefully, should not prove too onerous after the Act's long languish in limbo.
Over the past 12 years, T&T has learned the cost of doing nothing, which has been the bloody alternative to the enacted legislation. At the same time, the Act will change nothing if not properly enforced.
There is little doubt, for example, that some irresponsible owners will abandon their dogs rather than spend the money to secure their premises, get insurance, and comply with other provisions of the Act. This means that the authorities must have measures in place before August to capture the animals. There must also be an inspection programme, ready for implementation by the deadline, to ensure that all owners of dangerous dogs are registered and to bring down the full penalties of the Act against those who are delinquent.
Once these actions are taken, T&T will be emancipated from the threat to life and limb posed by animals kept allegedly for some people's personal safety, but evidently representing a mortal peril to everyone else.