Northern Ireland council launches amnesty for owners of outlawed pit bulls

Owners of pit bull terriers have begun to hand over their pets as part of Northern Ireland's first amnesty targeting the outlawed dog breed.

The monthlong amnesty in Ballymena District Council, northwest of Belfast, gives owners of pit bulls a chance to surrender their illegal animals without facing the prospect of a maximum 2,000-pound (Ђ3,000, US$3,900) fine and two years' imprisonment.

The dog warden for the council, Nigel Devine, said members of outlawed paramilitary groups appeared to be among the pit bulls' biggest fans and liked to flaunt their pets as a symbol of their contempt for the law. He said they also were being bred to fight to the death for gamblers' entertainment.

"It's all macho image. The only reason these people have these dogs is because they are banned," Devine said.

But the dog catcher also questioned why the Dangerous Dogs Act, which restricts ownership of pit bull terriers throughout the United Kingdom, is enforced more severely in Northern Ireland than elsewhere. He noted that judges in England and Wales can allow owners of pit bulls deemed harmless to keep them, but no such exception was permitted here.

He said two pit bulls had already been surrendered in Ballymena before the formal start to the amnesty Jan. 1. One was abandoned at a garbage-collection site, while the other was handed over at the council's headquarters.

He said nine worried dog owners had asked him to confirm whether their terriers were of the pit-bull variety. None was.

The council announced the amnesty following a pit-bull attack on a family walking their Labrador retrievers in a local park in November. The family wasn't injured but one Labrador was fatally mauled.

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