[WATCH] Alison Bezzina: ‘Bully breed ban only solution to unprecedented problem’

The debate on bully breed dogs has once again been thrust onto the national agenda. Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina sits down with Karl Azzopardi to discuss her views on the issue, shortcomings facing the animal welfare sector and why government should legislate against big cat cub petting

Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina believes a temporary ban on bully breed dogs is the only solution to the abandonment crisis this breed is facing.  

The debate on whether the breed should be banned was once again thrust onto the national agenda after 27 bully breed dogs were rescued from dire conditions at a Ħaż-Żebbuġ residence earlier this month.  

News of the rescue saw the commissioner reiterating previous calls for the breed to be banned, with Bezzina saying that while it may seem harsh, it is the only solution to the crisis facing shelters and sanctuaries. 

She says the problem lies in demand not meeting the supply of bully breed puppies on the market and with people lacking the knowledge on how to care for the exceptionally strong and energetic breed.  

Bezzina says the mixing of breeds by breeders is flooding the market with puppies which have no pedigree certificate and no microchip. “This means that once these dogs, that are normally stronger than pure breeds, are abandoned, you can rarely trace their owner.” 

With most people choosing not to adopt bully breeds, the number of abandoned dogs continues to rise. Bezzina says the country is at crisis point. “Something needs to be done,” she tells me. 

The commissioner also clarifies that banning the breed will not mean the nation-wide confiscation of bully breed dogs.  

In her 2023 annual report released recently, the commissioner also flagged issues concerning inadequate enforcement of animal welfare laws.  

She says the issue stems from several sources. “You have a question of human resources and loopholes in the law, and sometimes a bit of both.” 

The commissioner also argues that on certain cases, the law should be changed so that accused persons must prove themselves innocent like in money laundering cases.  

“On certain cases you have loopholes in the law which are very difficult to address. For example, on ear cropping, it is very hard to prove guilt, because the prosecution has to prove who did it and whether it was done abroad or in Malta. Having the accused prove their innocence could solve the issue,” she says.  

Speaking on a lack of progress surrounding zoo legislation, the commissioner says the petting of cubs is carried out so they can get accustomed to human interaction, before they are shipped overseas to their new owners.  

“I am totally against it. We do not know where they are shipped off to, we have no visibility as to where they end up. A lot of them are sent to Libya, and we do not know where they end up,” she says.

The following is an excerpt from the interview.  

The full interview can also be viewed on Facebook and Spotify. 

What is the reason behind the bully breed ‘problem’? 

If I had to simplify the issue, it is down to demand not equalling supply. We have a lot of bully breed dogs and puppies, and yet people do not want to adopt them. You have people who get bully breed puppies, but when they grow up, have the biggest chance of being abandoned... People get fed up with them as they fail to realise how strong and energetic, they are. Normally it’s not a question of the dogs being aggressive, but their high energy levels. To even take them out for a walk is a challenge. The situation takes a turn to the worse when you realise how small the number of people interested in adopting mixed bully breeds is.

What will a ban on the breed solve? 

What I am arguing is that when we have sanctuaries and shelters which are filled with abandoned dogs, allowing the widespread breeding of these dogs will only contribute to the problem. Yes, with the prohibition we will deny people the chance to enjoy a bully breed puppy for around six months, but we would be solving a very big problem.

But wouldn’t another breed start being a problem when bully breeds are banned? 

Historically we never had a problem of this size. Yes, I agree, we did have issues with other breeds in the past, but at this level, where sanctuaries have stopped taking in bully breeds because they are stuck with them, we never had such a big problem.

You reiterated your views against big cat cub petting in zoos in your 2023 annual report. Why? 

The reason I made that recommendation is because the only reason why cubs are allowed to be handled by people is so that they can get used to human interaction before they are sold and shipped off to their new owners.  

I am totally against it. We do not know where they are shipped off to, we have no visibility as to where they end up. A lot of them are sent to Libya, but then we do not know where they end up.

Should zoos be banned all together? 

The zoos we have right now cannot just be closed in a split second, because where would you put the animals? But yes, we cannot continue adding wild animals in captivity, not because zoo owners are torturing or not caring for them, a lot of them actually do their best to care for them, but you can never replicate their natural environment where they live. A tiger’s territory is the size of half of Malta, how can you replace that? You can never replicate that in an enclosure.