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Dog liability Bill gets to House almost a decade after Chuck started work

... Four people killed, dozens injured by vicious animals within that time

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
fracisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, August 01, 2020

JUSTICE Minister Delroy Chuck yesterday admitted that it took legislators almost a decade to table a Bill in the House of Representatives which seeks to hold owners of dangerous dogs criminally liable for attacks on the public.

Within that time, at least four people have been killed and dozens more injured by vicious dogs.

The Bill, officially titled An Act to Repeal the Dogs (Liability for Injuries by) Act, or the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act, 2020, was tabled last week.

“This is long in coming and people wondered why it took so long to come. The truth about it is that I first brought it when I was minister of justice in 2011 and after nine years it's just being tabled. I first brought it up to the law reform department in 2011 and nine years later is when it's being tabled,” Chuck told a press briefing held at the Ministry of Justice in St Andrew, yesterday.

“The reason for this is that there are so many areas involving stray dogs, licensing of dogs, importation of dogs, the spaying of dogs et cetera. Only this year we decided that by the time you deal with all of these things it will continue into another year or two. So the Ministry of Justice decided that we're just going to deal with one particular piece of legislation,” the minister noted.

The decision follows years of outrage and cries for amendments to the 1877 Dog Liability Act, which only addresses the civil liability of dog owners.

It comes after the death of 66-year-old Whittington Cole who was mauled by four pit bulls and Rottweilers in August 2018.

The elder man's death occurred 21 months after a mother and her two young children were attacked by dogs in an upper St Andrew community.

In February 2016, the Jamaica Observer reported the death of 56-year-old Jerome Pow after he was attacked by pit bulls in the vicinity of Hagley Park Road, also in St Andrew.

In July 2011, 62-year-old Valerie Stephenson, of St Catherine, was killed by a pit bull as she walked in the community. Four months earlier, in Westmoreland, eight-month-old Oshawn Obermann was mauled by a pit bull owned by his parents. He survived with major injuries.

In December 2012, two-year-old Ronica Gregory, of St Catherine, was killed by a pit bull and her sister seriously injured.

Also in that year, a woman and her 14-month-old son were attacked by a pit bull in Spanish Town.

On January 2, 2014, a three-year-old boy lost an eye after being mauled by a pit bull in St Ann. Two days later, a 59-year-old mechanic was mauled by three pit bulls in St Mary.

Last November, 30-year-old Wesley Daley, who was attacked by dogs in January 2018, begged the Government to revisit the outdated legislation, noting then that dog attacks had become alarmingly frequent. He suffered peripheral neuropathy a condition that results when nerves that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord from and to the rest of the body are damaged or diseased after the attack on his life.

His call came weeks after a grade six teacher of St Richard's Primary was mauled by a pack of pit bulls in Coopers Hill.

“What this new Act deals with is not only civil liability but with criminal liability. We want to be able to say to owners of dogs that you must manage, care and control your dogs. So if you allow the dogs to leave your kind space and attack someone in the public space then not only will you be responsible for civil liability, but you could also be charged for criminal conduct in that you failed to control and manage these dogs that have caused injury to members of the public,” Chuck stated.

At the same time, he urged stakeholders and members of the public to examine the Bill and provide feedback.

“If there are concerns, if there are comments, kindly pass it on so that we can examine the comments and incorporate any suggestion that we consider useful. We want the legislation to be accepted, to be supported by all dog lovers, dog owners and generally the public at large to feel that this legislation will go some way if not totally to protect them from dog attacks,” the minister said.