Today’s Editorial in the Barbados Advocate newspaper makes for interesting reading. The death of a Verona Gibson by the mouths of dogs have rightly aroused the anger of Barbadians. BU’s position is simple, if owners continue to show they cannot train and or secure their ‘pet’ dogs then the state must step in to protect the vulnerable – Barbados Undergound
The tragic death of an elderly Barbadian woman in the early hours of last Saturday owing to a mauling by a number of dogs [although the precise cause of her death has not yet been officially determined] has naturally renewed public calls for the more effective regulation of these animals.
The argument by dog lovers and others that the matter relates more to an absence of proper training and socialization of his or her animals by the owner of them rather than the natural propensity of the dog to attack has scarcely been assisted by the juxtaposition in another section of the press yesterday of a report of the local incident and a similar homicide of a six year old boy in south west Atlanta in the United States. Moreover, the readiness of some to attribute, perhaps unfairly, most dog attacks to one notorious breed would have been apparent in initial local reports of last Saturday’s tragedy.
This ambivalence towards liability for dogs is reflected to some extent in their legal regulation whereby, although these animals are classified as “mansuetae naturae” or tame by nature, the law also recognizes that they may inflict serious and, in some cases, lethal injury; hence they are specially treated in legislation.
For example, section 8 of the Animals (Civil Liability) Act, Cap 149 A provides:
Subject to section 9, the owner of a dog is liable for any damage caused by that dog.
(2) In an action under subsection (1)) it shall not be necessary for the aggrieved party to prove
(a) a previous mischievous propensity in the dog;
(b) that the owner knew of the dog’s vicious or mischievous propensity; or (c) that the damage was attributable to neglect on the part of the owner.
However, under section 9 of the same Act, the owner may escape liability if the damage is due wholly to the fault of the victim or if it may be established to the satisfaction of the court that he or she took reasonable care to prevent the dog from causing damage. There is similar legislation in Jamaica under the Dogs (Liability for Injuries) Act, and in Guyana.
The strict nature of the owner’s liability may be discerned in one Jamaican decision where even though the defendant’s dog had been set upon the claimant by two small boys, he was still held liable since the defence of “act of a stranger” was available only where the owner established that he had done everything he could have done to prevent third parties meddling with the dog and causing it to inflict injury. It should be noted that these statutes cover civil liability only and not criminal responsibility.
Most of the local suggestions for reform have been of the nature of enacting a Dangerous Dogs Act, such as obtains in the UK, [Dangerous Dogs Act 1991] where certain breeds of dog, [namely the pit bull terrier, the Japanese tosa and any dog of any type designated by the Secretary of State] are prohibited from being the subject of procreation, sale, exchange or gift or from going unmuzzled and off a leash in a public place or being abandoned or allowed to stray by the owner.
We are partial to the view that it is not the dog itself that is inherently dangerous, but rather that defective training or an absence of training might cause it to attack human beings, sometimes with fatal consequences.
We suggest therefore that criminal, and not merely civil, liability for damage should be reserved for those occasions only where the owner of certain stipulated types of dogs permits them to wander in public in breach of the Dogs (Licensing & Control) Act with the result that they inflict injury on individuals.