Dog warden defends pit bull amnesty as girl, 5, is killed by dog
A dog warden behind the pit bull amnesty in Northern Ireland - the first in the UK - has said critics of the measure should "think again" after the death of a five-year-old girl who was attacked by one of the dogs in St Helen's in England.
Nigel Devine from Ballymena Borough Council was speaking as a month-long amnesty in the council area begins.
Owners of pit bulls, which are illegal to breed and own, will not be prosecuted if they sign them over to the council.
The council hopes the scheme will make the area safer by removing the dogs from the streets.
The amnesty was brought in following a recent incident in Randalstown Forest - in an adjoining council area - where a pet dog was mauled to death by a roaming pit bull.
Mr Devine said: "The people who are criticising what I am doing should think again. This attack in (England) is just why we have brought in the amnesty.
"We don't want such a thing to happen here because pit bulls are unpredictable.
"We were fortunate we weren't dealing with something similar when a pit bull attacked a family out walking in Randalstown Forest recently, except their pet dog gave its life to save them."
Police said the killer pit bull in St Helen's was humanely destroyed.
Recently, a 17-year-old girl was prosecuted in Ballymena for owning a pit bull and was fined.
Under legislation in Northern Ireland magistrates do not have the discretion to spare pit bulls from being humanely destroyed and the animal in that case - 'Bailey' - was put down.
Ballymena Council is humanely destroying any pit bulls that are handed over. This policy has drawn criticism from some people who say it is unfair to kill the dogs, with some suggesting neutering is a better way forward.
Two pit bulls left in to the council before the amnesty started have been humanely destroyed. Mr Devine said that, on Friday, he identified two other pit bulls, but gave the owner the option of handing them in during the amnesty to spare being taken to court.
The scheme has also meant some people who thought their dog may have been a pit bull can rest easily - after examination, 12 out of 14 suspected dogs were not the illegal breed.
Currently in Northern Ireland anyone owning a pit bull can face a fine of up to £2,000 and up to two years in jail if convicted.
Mr Devine said the Dangerous Dogs Act, which restricts ownership of pit bull terriers throughout the United Kingdom, is enforced more severely in the province than elsewhere.
Magistrates and judges in England and Wales can allow owners of pit bulls deemed harmless to keep them.
pit bulls are not illegal in the Republic of Ireland and it is believed that is the reason pit bulls are more common in Ulster than some other parts of the UK.
pit bull terriers and certain other dog breeds were banned by the UK Government in 1991.
Anyone in the Ballymena area who believes they have a pit bull can contact Ballymena Council throughout January.