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Trinidad and Tobago: Dangerous Dogs Act Finally to Come into Force

(Apr. 24, 2012) The Ministry of the Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) stated in a press release on April 16, 2012, that the Dangerous Dogs Act would come into force on August 1, 2012, by presidential proclamation, and that regulations to implement the Act will soon be prepared. The Act was passed by the Parliament in June 2000, but has been “languishing on the books for 12 years.” (Ria Taitt, Dangerous Dogs Act to Be Made Law … After 12 Years, TRINIDADEXPRESS.COM (Apr. 16, 2012); The Dangerous Dogs Act, 2000, Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago website (last visited Apr. 20, 2012).)

Features of the Act

The purpose of the Dangerous Dogs Act is to prohibit the import and breeding of dangerous dogs and impose other restrictions on them, to regulate the manner in which owners or keepers keep dangerous dogs, and to ensure that such dogs are kept under proper control to guarantee public safety. (Taitt, supra.) The dogs categorized as dangerous under the Act include pitbull terriers, Fila Brasileiros, and Japanese Tosas, as well as any dog bred from these breeds, but the Act authorizes the Minister of Local Government “to declare any other type of dog as a dangerous dog.” (Id.)

Owners of dangerous dogs are required, within three months of the Act's entry into force, to have the animal spayed or neutered and registered with the Ministry of Local Government. Owners must also obtain an annual $500 license for the dog from the Municipal Corporation in the place of residence; those who fail to do so face a penalty of a $50,000 fine and a one-year term of imprisonment. (Taitt, supra.) Municipal corporations in T&T are local government entities that provide many of the community services and facilities, e.g., the building and maintenance of roads, bridges, and drains; garbage collection; and the issuance of building approvals. (Local Government Services, Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago website (last visited Apr. 20, 2012).)

Should a dangerous dog escape from the owner's premises, the owner will be liable for any injury or damage it causes. To prevent an animal from escaping, owners must secure the premises “by a fence or wall of a suitable height and constructed and maintained so as to prevent the dog from escaping.” (Taitt, supra.) The owner must also properly display a notice that there is a dangerous dog on the premises. (Id.) In addition to banning the import, breeding, and sale of dangerous dogs, the Act prohibits persons under the age of 18 from owning them. Those who fail to comply with any of the Act's provisions will be obliged to turn over their dogs to the Ministry of Local Government, which will then destroy the animals. (Id.)

It may be noted that the T&T Dogs Act has, among other provisions, measures on the handling of stray dogs and requirements for the muzzling of dogs “in or upon any highway or public place.” (Dogs Act (June 13, 1918, as amended), c. 67-54 LAWS OF TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO.)

Assessments of the Dangerous Dogs Act

The Attorney General's press release is quoted as stating, in connection with the need to implement the Dangerous Dogs Act:

The Government has noted with great concern the recent and growing attacks on law-abiding citizens by pitbulls. The facts show that often these dangerous dogs are not properly trained or secured. In recent times, dangerous dogs have been allowed to escape onto the road and attack persons, causing severe injuries and, in some cases, death … . (Id.)

Nevertheless, critics of the legislation question why it targets three particular breeds of dogs, arguing that “[a]ny big dog can be dangerous, and German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Dobermans — just to name the better-known large breeds — can maim and kill just as effectively as” the listed breeds. They further point out that “[t]he stereotype attached to pitbulls, for example, is not borne out by expert tests of these animals' temperament, and the disproportionate number of attacks on humans by them may be a consequence of both the number of such dogs in T&T and the type of person who owns them.” (At Last, Action on Dangerous Dogs, TRINIDADEXPRESS.COM (Apr. 20, 2012).) Another criticism is that, if the Act is kept in its present form, owners of other breeds would be subject only to standard penalties, which have reportedly been ineffectual in stemming violations. (Id.)

Comparison with UK Dangerous Dogs Act

Some commentators have noted the similarities and differences between the Trinidad and Tobago Dangerous Dogs Act and that of the United Kingdom. The UK Act (adopted in 1991 but amended in 1997) names four types of dangerous dogs, as opposed to the three types listed in the T&T Act. In addition, the UK Act covers cross breeds of these four types of dogs, with the result that dangerous dogs are categorized by type (i.e., having certain physical traits or being bred for fighting) and not by breed, unlike in the T&T Act. As the commentator points out, this is a more practical approach, because it “means that whether a dog is prohibited under the Act in the UK will depend on a judgement about its physical characteristics and whether they match the description of a prohibited type as assessed by the Court through evidence presented to it.” (Martin George, Who Let the Dogs Out?, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO GUARDIAN ONLINE (Apr. 17, 2011); [UK] Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (as amended on June 8, 1997), 1991 c. 65, LEGISLATION.GOV.UK.)

On the other hand, there are steps being taken in the UK that may lead to the repeal of its Dangerous Dogs Act and its replacement with “effective preventive regulation” in the form of a dog control law. (Dominique Jackson, Why the Dangerous Dogs Act Must Be Repealed and Replaced, MAIL ONLINE (Jan. 3, 2012).)