FRIDAY, MAY 25: Any move to relax the ban on pit bulls in Bermuda must be carefully considered, animal experts have warned.

The warning comes after Environment Minister Marc Bean hinted he would be prepared to ‘free the breed up’ during a television interview on ZBM last week.

Minister Bean said: “I want my committee to come and give me recommendations on how to free it up and give the freedom and responsibility to the citizen in this Country to deal with the dog that they like to deal with.”

Vet Andrew Madeiros, who runs Ettrick Animal Hospital in Warwick, told the Bermuda Sun that before the ban was put in place there was a lot of illegal breeding.

He added: “As vets we saw a lot of pit bull and pit crosses in practice. There was an enormous amount of illegal breeding and a lot of very young boys bringing in puppies with no knowledge or money to care for them. We saw a lot of genetic diseases from inbreeding and there were cases of dog bite injuries from pit bulls.

“As the pit bull was by far the most common breed we saw more issues related to them. But they were by no means the only troublesome dogs.”

Mr Madeiros said he was personally against the initial ban being imposed because owners should be responsible for their choices and actions.

He added: “Unfortunately people who broke the law were rarely held accountable or prosecuted. After the ban there was a decrease in the number of puppies seen but illegal breeding didn’t stop and people hid their dogs, re-homed puppies at too early an age and didn’t seek treatment as they were afraid of prosecution.

“Any move to relax the ban must be balanced with requirements that don’t allow things to go back to where we are seeing the problems we saw before.

“Irresponsible, ignorant people should not have animals, especially ones that can become a risk to other animals or people.

“The question will be if Government will, and can, enforce the additional requirements that will have to be put in place if the ban is relaxed.”

At present pit bulls are on the prohibited list of dog breeds in Bermuda.

SPCA inspector Glyn Roberts said that the ban ‘clearly had not worked’ because there was still an over abundance of the breed on the island.

He added: “The SPCA believes that responsible dog ownership is the way forward to addressing the dog problem on the island along with effective enforcement. Whilst Breed Specific legislation generally does not work suddenly legalizing those pit bulls that are currently illegal and presumably moving them to the restricted list without adequate consultation and resources for property inspection and licensing being put in place could present its own problems.

“Any dog can be a danger or a nuisance if not cared for and housed correctly and the emphasis needs to be placed on changing the attitude of certain dog owners. All too often the SPCA visit addresses where dogs are chained 24/7 with little stimulation or socialization and it is no wonder that when they get loose they run amok. Many of the dogs highlighted in newspaper reports are fine with people but aggressive towards other dogs and animals.

“These dogs whatever the breed is the problem along with the owners that raised them and schemes like the canine good citizen and the dog training clubs are vital to educate the owners and socialize the dogs. The SPCA is committed to working with all the stakeholders to look at and address all animal welfare and dog ownership issues on the island.”

The Bermuda Sun tried to speak to Minister Bean about the issue, but received no response.