Columns

Ronica's Law: Ban the pit bull

Grace VIRTUE

Tuesday, January 28, 2014    

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Last week I wrote about the problem of pit bulls routinely attacking people. The first response in my mailbox was from a medical doctor. Although some doctors practise preventative medicine, most make their living treating the sick and treating traumatic injuries like motor vehicle accidents, gunshot wounds, dog bites, and the like. This physician said he had had enough with the pit bull injuries and has brought the matter to the attention of the authorities. He has had no reply, but is hopeful that the article may elicit some response.

Other readers shared their experiences about being personally attacked or dealing with relatives who have been. One man said his friend was almost killed last October and, the night before, someone he knew was treated at the University Hospital after being bitten by one of these dogs.

On this newspaper's website, a reader wrote about being forced to lock herself inside her house for several hours after her neighbour's pit bull invaded her yard. Of course, calling the police would have made no sense because they think it is legal to own the dogs in Jamaica and furthermore "dawg business nuh have nutten fi do wid police".

But, according to the law of 1890, which seems to be the basis of existing regulation governing animal importation into Jamaica, "where a person is seen or found committing, or is reasonably engaged in committing an offence against this law, a constable or rural policeman, may, without warrant, apprehend him...The constabulary and rural police of each district or area, country, parish, town, or place should execute and enforce this law, and every order of the governor in Privy Council."

In the United States, even in jurisdictions where pit bulls are not yet banned, if the police is called to respond to an attack, they will come with guns drawn because they know that the average individual is no match for this dog, and they know that by the time the police has to be called, there is already a deep crisis.

As the number of fatal attacks increase and more and more studies establish incontrovertible evidence that this breed is by far the most likely to attack with fatal consequences, an increased number of jurisdictions are taking steps to ban and otherwise control the breed. Under the headline, 'Banning pit bulls saves lives and protects the innocent', May 24, 2013, an article in Orlando Sentinel newspaper, cited last week, noted further that: "Miami-Dade County, which banned pit bulls in 1989, has avoided this loss of life. Other Florida counties -- prohibited by state law from regulating dogs by breed -- continue to experience deaths and disfigurements due to pit bulls. Since 1989, 18 Florida citizens have been killed by pit bulls -- none within Miami-Dade." It said further that, since 1986, 18 appellate decisions have upheld lower court findings that pit bulls are more dangerous than other dog breeds.

The article referenced a study Mortality, Mauling and Maiming by Vicious Dogs, published in the Annals of Surgery in 2011, which concluded the following: "Attacks by pit bulls are associated with higher morbidity rates, higher hospital charges, and a higher risk of death than are attacks by other breeds of dogs. Strict regulation of pit bulls may substantially reduce the US mortality rates related to dog bites," the article said.

In April 2012, the highest court in Maryland declared pit bulls "inherently dangerous", altering common law pertaining to pit bull attacks. Multiple jurisdictions in Maryland, including Baltimore County and Prince Georges County, have active bans on pit bulls. In October last year, Riverside County, California, faced with the prospect of possibly euthanising more than 3,000 of these dogs abandoned in shelters, passed an ordinance requiring that all pit bulls over the age of four months be immediately spayed and neutered. Pit bulls, not surprisingly, are the most abandoned dogs and least likely to be adopted. It is also the most widely banned breed, prompting some airlines to refuse transporting the dog. A note on Air Transat, a Canadian holiday travel airline, advises that since certain breeds are not allowed entry into some countries, they are unable to transport the following: The American Staffordshire terrier, Boer bulls (a South African breed), Staffordshire bull terrier and the American pit bull terrier.

The Ministry of Agriculture, which has direct responsibility for animal control, is moving with the speed of a century-old turtle as far as addressing the issue is concerned, or the broader reality of the outdated laws governing animal importation in Jamaica in general.

Dr Osbil Watson, director of the Veterinary Services Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, said, January 2013, new protocols were being drafted and would be ready within weeks.

"You have people who call and cry, especially Jamaicans that do not know what to do as the law prevents them from coming home because they are challenged, disabled and unable to have their service animals accompany them due to their location," he said. "The schedule of countries will also be changed so animals won't just be allowed from Great Britain and Ireland, but extended to other countries ... We hope to boost our tourism product and also to ensure that Jamaicans abroad who want to return home with their service animals will be able to do so."

If only Dr Watson didn't seem to suffer from Advanced Civil Servant's Inertia, a condition characterised by the ability to spout volumes of verbiage, secure in the knowledge that one will never be held accountable.

It is time the laws are updated. I trust they will be done without regard to special interests and, further, that pit bulls will be expressly banned for the next 25 years at least, and other breeds deemed dangerous, tightly controlled. Pit bulls now in the country should be registered, neutered and spayed and insured sufficiently to cover medical bills, including reconstructive surgery if needed, loss of income, and pain and suffering.

Call it Ronica's Law. Honour the memory of a precious child lost to an undisciplined society and let it be a pledge to do better by all our children.

gvirtue@usa.net

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