Untimely death: Hershey the pit bull puppy was put down last week. *Photo supplied
Untimely death: Hershey the pit bull puppy was put down last week. *Photo supplied

Pit bulls face a ‘death sentence’ in Bermuda today because of years of illegal breeding and irresponsible ownership.

Animal welfare experts say the breed and responsible owners are paying the price for the actions of those who used the dog as a status symbol and a way to make money.

They urged authorities to focus on catching those responsible for the illegal breeding and neglect of pit bulls rather than targeting loving families who take the animals in. 

The call comes as dog lovers plan to take to the streets on tomorrow to raise awareness about the breed. 

And the march follows the controversial decision by animal wardens last week to put down an ‘illegal’ pit bull puppy called Hershey.

Vet Andrew Madeiros, who is chairman of the SPCA, said: “Historically the problem has been a section of the population have been attracted to the pit bull breed for the wrong reasons.

“They did not want it as a family pet but as a chattel or piece of jewellery to make a statement and over time this devalued the breed.

“They would be left outside tied up and not socialized and young owners would lose interest and this led to behaviour problems and attacks.

“At one point almost 90 per cent of the SPCA’s cruelty cases involved pit bulls.

“Government’s solution was to ban the breed. I don’t think that was the right way to go although I understand why they did it.”

Mr Madeiros said authorities had missed the chance to go after illegal breeders in the wake of the ban, and that a move to simply lift the restriction now would not solve all the problems.

“Irresponsible breeding within our small gene pool has created a different kind of pit bull from the original breed,” he said.

“So to say it is all about the owner is not totally true in Bermuda, it does come down to the breed of dog we have created.

“A percentage of them are problematic, and in the wrong hands they can be really problematic.

A mess

“It’s a really complex situation and it’s a mess in Bermuda right now.

“I have had three clients recently who have had pit bulls taken away from perfectly loving homes and euthanized simply because they are a banned breed.

“We need to look at the bigger picture and get our act into gear about enforcing and educating breeding requirements.

“People who breed these animals illegally need to be charged and locked up to get the message across.”

Kristin Devine, who formed ‘Our Misunderstood’ to raise breed awareness in Bermuda, also believes irresponsible owners and breeding lies at the heart of the pit bull issue.

She added: “There is a very responsible group of licensed pit bull and bully breed owners who are coming together to help identify realistic alternatives to a complete breed ban while attempting to shine some positive light on the targeted breeds.

“What is becoming apparent is that the more powerful breeds should not be owned by everybody.

“There seems to be a potential solution in providing special licenses to individuals deemed capable and able to raise a powerful breed.

“We want to work towards these kinds of alternatives rather than an outright ban on certain dog breeds.

“Instating more neutral legislation governing responsible ownership of all breeds would be ideal.”

But this week, in the wake of the public outcry that followed a pit bull puppy being put down, Government showed little inclination for change saying ‘pit bulls were put on the banned list for a reason’.

Debbie Masters, a former Animal Welfare officer with the SPCA, told the Bermuda Sun the dog ban had sent pit bulls and illegal breeding underground.

She added: “Pit bulls are getting the death sentence for the irresponsible actions of bad owners. It’s a huge problem in Bermuda.

“The scale of the problem has escalated and it is the breed that has suffered.

“We need to take action against the people who breed these dogs illegally.

“These dogs are being hid in basements, not being socialized and not given veterinary care so if any of them escape it is a recipe for disaster.”

The Bermuda Sun asked to speak to the animal wardens, but we did not receive a response.