* photo by Nigel Regan.
Good pets: Pit bulls and pit bull crosses like Roxy, a recent arrival at the SPCA, can make excellent companions, given the right environment.
* photo by Nigel Regan. Good pets: Pit bulls and pit bull crosses like Roxy, a recent arrival at the SPCA, can make excellent companions, given the right environment.
The pit bull was among Bermuda's most sought after breeds until Government put them on the banned list four years ago.

It was a controversial move. Some dog lovers were outraged, arguing the authorities should punish individual owners, not wipe out an entire breed. But complaints about the dogs were increasing; something needed to be done, and it needed to be done fast.

Government says it received more than 500 dog complaints in the two year run-up to the July 2003 ban - most of them were about pit bulls chasing people, biting other dogs and being improperly cared for.

In the two years after the ban, complaints dropped by more than half to 241.

The dogs haven't been outlawed completely - dogs born before the ban are plentiful and illegal litters are still being born.

Some dog lovers are still smarting about the ban, a position that veterinarian and SPCA chairman Andrew Madeiros understands.

He's always been torn about it and today suggests it might even be time for a review. But - and this is an example of just how torn he is - it's hard to argue against the figures, which suggest banning pit bulls has had the desired effect, both on people and on the well-being of the animals themselves.

The pit bull's downfall was bad owners, people who thought having a tough-looking dog made them tough, which was infinitely more important than having a loving family pet.

But it wasn't always like that.

Dr. Madeiros says the importation of pit bulls may have started off as an innocent enough pursuit - until they started breeding. The more dogs, the more people who shouldn't have a dog, got a dog.

Dr. Madeiros said: "There are lots of responsible owners, but there are also people who are not dog lovers. The dog doesn't go in the house or the car. It gets fed and watered and a chain on it. It becomes a tough image accessory.

"The reason why the ban came about was because predominantly, that breed or like breeds were in the hands of more irresponsible owners than responsible owners."

The ban was quite heavily enforced - many illegal litters were destroyed. Eventually it became too much of a liability for a lot of people to risk being caught with a pit bull.

Dr. Madeiros said: "About a year after the ban, we started to see far less pit bull puppies - before it was every tenth dog was an eight-week-old pit bull puppy. Often the people who were getting them were very young."

He continued: "When the ban first came out, the dog wardens were very aggressive; they followed up laws, they took litters and a lot of dogs were destroyed. It's just become not as convenient or easy to get one now. It's just not worth it to try and find one."

Today it seems highly unlikely the ban, which also includes Rottweilers, mastiffs and several other breeds, will ever be lifted. It's a hard reality for a lot of dog lovers, including Dr. Madeiros.

"As a vet and from the SPCA perspective, we were not really for the ban, but it's crazy for me to ignore the difference that we have seen. It's unfortunate that people who are responsible, who like to have a certain dog, can't," he said.

And yes, while he can't argue the ban hasn't had a positive effect, he is "not opposed to them [the Government] looking at the list a little more closely." He says there are "certain ways" of dealing with some breeds of dog, other than banning them.

The pit bull became the poster dog for the ban, but other dogs face a questionable future, too, at least in terms of their quality of life, which is why all potential owners need to think long and hard before getting one.

Dr. Madeiros said: "The problem we have in Bermuda is that it's become more and more congested, more urban. People are living closer and closer together, yards are getting smaller.

"It's become harder and harder for all animals on the island - it's harder to find a place to let a dog run loose, you can't have them off the leash in the park - but dogs need to blow off steam, when they can't do that, that's when you get problems."

He added: "The biggest thing is that people need to do their research if they are thinking about getting a particular breed. Certain breeds aren't good for Bermuda, herding breeds, like collies and corgis."

Bottom line, said Dr. Madeiros: "Do your homework."