Monday, January 22, 2018

Modest but welcome   start to bad-dog control

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Mark Fraser

One lingering source of wonder, upon reviewing the sections of the Dog Control Act proclaimed into effect last week, is what took it so long. It seems amazing that such basic public-safety provisions had not much earlier come into effect.

 Certainly, there had long been no lack of pressing justification.  Episodes had recurred of savage slaughter through mutilation by dogs of helpless citizens, memorably of two women, both in their eighties, earlier this year and last year.

In a matter of minutes, last March, one Tunapuna woman was torn to bits in her own yard by three pitbulls kept by her son. That followed the fatal mauling of a Maraval woman by a pitbull, which had escaped the family kennel last August.

Such have been the repeatedly tragic results of legislative and civic oversight, if not indifference, deriving from the long-prevailing laissez-faire attitude governing the importation, breeding, and minding of dogs with ferociously feral potential. The failure to adopt adequate legislative and other safeguards was always insupportable, but expressions of public and official outrage after each dog atrocity have seemed to lead all too slowly to progressive change. 

The 12 sections finally now enforceable as the law of the land together represent a reasonable minimum programme toward securing public safety and protection against the menace of unmanaged or unmanageable dogs. They include requirements for setting strict care standards for specified dangerous dogs. Owners must ensure their safekeeping, well away from potential human victims, within effectively enclosed spaces.

Further, penalties are provided for abandonment of the animals, and owners of dogs that kill are liable, upon prosecution and conviction, to imposition of heavy fines and jail terms. The measures signal a welcome, tough-minded, approach that reposes strict responsibilities with owners. 

Owners of offending animals are declared subject to civil liabilities, meaning they may be sued for damages on behalf of victims or survivors. Those who admit inability to keep their animals in accordance with the law may deliver them to the local authorities who, it is hoped, have themselves developed adequate pound facilities.

Clearly, the measures proclaimed fall short of a finished legislative product comprehensively covering the relevant area of law. Opposition and some Independent senators had voted against the bill, objecting to the designation as dangerous of specific canine breeds. 

While dangerous-dog regulation remains a work in progress, a start has been made. No more should T&T endure the helpless hand-wringing when dogs kill people—so reminiscent of horrendous killings resulting from lax US gun control. The Dog Control Act, in the part thereof now in force, signals the beginning of the end of impunity for far too long enjoyed by reckless, heedless, and even arrogant, owners of potential and actual four-legged killing machines.