Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Useless law lets the bad dogs out


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The free-roaming of potentially feral dogs, so unregulated as to present a real and present danger to human life and limb, must be intolerable in any society with a decent respect for the law and order values underpinning quality of life.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the law has failed to deliver protection against unexpected attacks by ferocious dogs kept as pets or as guards. The unfinished business of the 2000 Act governing possession and handling of dangerous dogs comes back to haunt this country every time a defenceless victim, such as four-year-old Ezekiel Renne-Cambridge, is all but torn apart by canine predators. No such attack can be considered as an unpreventable "act of God'' equivalent to floods, hurricanes or earthquakes.

Whether by criminal statute or through civil tort, the owners of animals turned assassins must be held responsible for the possibly fatal depredations of their animals. For a start, the Dangerous Dogs Act must be seriously revisited to the end of ensuring urgent implementation. That Act, passed under a political cloud, represents an abject failure of the nation's political class, including the President of the Republic. Over a period of mere months, several persons had been attacked and some killed by large dogs. The list included six-year-old Kristian Clairmont, Monica Charles, 18-month-old Darius Lalla, Pamela Wright-Smith and her eight-year-old daughter Shekina, and 71-year-old Kimmoi Wong Won who was killed by her son's dogs. Most notoriously, Rastafarian Christopher Charles was killed by UNC financier Steve Ferguson's pitbulls.

Despite this ghastly chronicle, one conclusion drawn by the public held that the Basdeo Panday administration was reluctant to pass a law which would discommode one of its key funders. Indeed, when the Dangerous Dogs Act 2000 was finally passed, and never assented to by the President, it seemed that it had indeed all been a parliamentary pappyshow. The Act itself listed just three breeds of dogs pitbull terriers, Fila Brasileiros, Japanese Tosas, and any other dogs bred from them. The assumption here was that certain breeds were more dangerous than others. The fact is, however, that under the right circumstances any dog can be dangerous. Even the infamous pitbulls have been involved in more attacks than other dogs only because that breed became popular during the 1990s. In previous decades, German Shepherds and Dobermans had the reputation as dangerous dogs.

In any case, the onerous provisions of the Act made the law virtually unenforceable, since the local authorities had neither the manpower nor the expertise to police all dog-owners. But it is owners who are ultimately responsible for their pets' actions. It is they who, when injuries are inflicted by the demonstrable menaces to human life and limb that their animals represent, should face penalties that would make other people attend to the training and the securing of their four-legged charges.