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Owners of illegal dogs are to be offered a one-off amnesty, Government announced yesterday.

The amnesty which begins on Monday and lasts six weeks will see owners avoid prosecution, providing their animals are spayed or neutered.

“The amnesty will serve to accept those animals that are already here, halt their reproduction, re-educate the public on dog legislation and seize future dogs,” explained Environment Minister Walter Roban in a statement to MPs.

Animals eligible for the amnesty offer include all dogs of restricted breeds, as well as unlicensed dogs and those from breeders without a Government permit. Owners who make use of the amnesty must first sign a contract agreeing to the conditions of the amnesty. Those failing to comply with its terms will be liable to prosecution and confiscation of their dogs, Mr Roban said.

Government initially considered seizing and destroying all of the estimated several hundred illegal dogs on the Island but, said director of Environmental Protection Dr Fredrick Ming, “this option would invariably capture loving pets, and evoke several lengthy court proceedings. The option was costly in terms of money and manpower, and was deemed impractical”.

Instead, owners will now be asked to license restricted dogs with the Department of Environmental Protection, present evidence of spaying or neutering and have the animals microchipped and registered.

Mr Roban added that dogs not eligible for the amnesty include:

l Those born after July18

l Those not legally on island as of July 18

l Those seized by the Animal Control Wardens in the course of their duties

l Those dogs whose owners are unwilling to have the animals spayed or neutered; or

l Those dogs which are outside of the terms of the amnesty.

The amnesty will not supersede any contract that the owner already has with the Department. For instance, a previously warned owner cannot use the amnesty to acquire an additional illegal dog.

Government also announced that no more than two dogs of restricted breeds will be allowed at a single property. Owners of more than two such dogs will be required to obtain the written permission of the property owners where the excess dogs will be kept.

Reacting to the announcement yesterday, SPCA director Kim Sherlaw said the charity had not been consulted or informed about the decision and would be seeking clarification from Government.

“Approximately 20 percent of the complaint and neglect calls we receive relate to dogs, and over half of those concern pit-bulls, a restricted breed,” said Ms Sherlaw, noting that most illegal dogs brought to the shelter are unlicensed and not spayed or neutered.

After his announcement in the House of Assembly yesterday, Mr Roban was quizzed by Opposition Leader John Barritt about what had prompted the amnesty.

Mr Roban replied that the Ministry knew there were “a number of unlicensed and unregulated dogs out there”. He added that he could not give precise numbers.

Mr Roban added: “We have got to get a better handle on the situation which is why we are having this amnesty”.

Mr Barritt then questioned whether Government had sufficient resources for the amnesty and Mr Roban said they would be working in partnership with other organisations.

Anyone wishing to inquire about the amnesty is asked to contact the Department of Environmental Protection on 236-4201.