Animal Welfare acted according to law in euthanised pitbulls case, investigation finds

An investigation into the case of euthanised dogs by the Animal Welfare Directorate has found it acted according to law and approved procedures dealing with aggressive behaviour

File photo
File photo

An investigation into the Animal Welfare Directorate and its practice to euthanise severely aggressive dogs has found the agency acted legitimately and in good faith.

The Office of the Commissioner for Animal Welfare commenced the investigation in August after online reports suggested that several pitbull dogs had been put down by the AWD. The dogs were put down due to aggressive behaviour.

The investigation said that despite video and photographic evidence showing some of the dogs in a docile and calm state, in all the cases probed, it was proven that the aggression witnessed at AWD was in fact severe.

All euthanised dogs fell within the red zone of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) ladder of aggression, with one of the cases exhibiting aggression accompanied by unrelievable physical suffering.

The report stated that between January 2021 and September 2021, AWD took in 231 dogs, nine of which were euthanised for aggressive behaviour. The nine dogs that were euthanised were mostly pitbull mix and large breeds that were considered dangerous by the AWD.  

For each of these dogs, AWD provided a detailed incident report signed by three people or a medical report from APH Veterinary Hospital.

The report said that the AWD had a legal, ethical and moral duty to manage unprovoked and grievous attacks on humans and other animals.

However, the Animal Welfare Commissioner said that before any consideration to euthanise is considered, every effort should be made to rehabilitate a dog with aggression issues. The commissioner recommended that AWD's resources need to be reviewed and increased dramatically for this to be done safely and with any degree of success.

"Given the current resources available to AWD, managing these cases appropriately without resorting to euthanasia would have been so restrictive that it would have seriously compromised the dogs' quality of life, the safety of the staff and volunteers, as well as other animals at AWD," the report said.

It went on to say that when euthanasia was performed, it was done to avoid further stress caused by travel and unknown surroundings. "It is the conviction of the board that the procedure was carried out in the most dignified and caring manner," the report found.

Regarding the option of exporting dogs with aggressive behaviour to specialised sanctuaries aboard, the commissioner said while it was discussed and looked promising "theoretically," the investigation concluded that the option remained vague, with no practical or realistic way of it being implemented.

"The allegation that AWD might be implementing a systematic approach to euthanise pitbulls was completely dispelled," the report said.

The commission said that the investigation found that AWD had no planned intention of hiding these cases of euthanasia since in most of the cases the directorate willingly informed the volunteers involved in the matter.

However, the report said the lack of transparency and active communication with the public, in this case, was one of the main reasons that led to such public concern and outrage. The initial social media reports also led to a protest outside AWD's quarters in Luqa.

The report concluded that it was "amply clear" that most persons involved in the investigation shared a "genuine and unpretentious love for animals."

"It is clear to the board that AWD's current management is doing its best to improve the situation and to reverse the unfavourable reputation it inherited," the report said.

READ ALSO: Animal Welfare Directorate denies it puts pitbulls down to sleep because of their breed

Recommendations from the investigation

  • A fenced open space at Animal Welfare (Ghammieri) should be provided for the dogs to run freely, blow off steam, and serve as an observation and training area prior to rehoming
  • Employees working with animals should be recruited more discriminately. Besides meeting certain criteria on paper, they should pass an aptitude test and be given an induction and regular in-house training
  • AWD should not be relying on volunteers to provide basic necessities such as dog walking. Volunteers should only serve as a bonus after basic staffing requirements are met
  • Dogs with a history of aggression should only be walked by experienced volunteers/staff members who should be wearing a visibility vest which indicates to passers-by to 'stay away'
  • A qualified and experienced dog behaviourist/trainer should be brought in on a regular basis, and not just when the need arises
  • Given the urgent nature and the need for this, the Veterinary Surgeons Council should prioritise the regularisation of behaviourists and trainers under The Veterinary Services Act
  • The Animal Welfare Directorate should have its own online presence to communicate with the public
  • A long-term goal should be that of creating a rehabilitation centre to cater specifically for aggressive and temperamental dogs
  • The breeding of dogs, in general, should be tightly controlled and the law amended to avoid loopholes and curb irresponsible breeding