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Doggone crazy - Pit bull lover warns careless owners

Published:Wednesday | November 25, 2020 | 12:14 AMAndre Williams/Staff Reporter
 Ricardo Byfield tends to his dog.
Ricardo Byfield tends to his dog.
Ricardo Byfield embraces his pit bull dog Scarface at his Kingston home on Monday. Against the background of a brutal attack on a five-year-old boy and the passage of a new law, there is greater scrutiny on dog owners in Jamaica.
Ricardo Byfield embraces his pit bull dog Scarface at his Kingston home on Monday. Against the background of a brutal attack on a five-year-old boy and the passage of a new law, there is greater scrutiny on dog owners in Jamaica.

With a name like Scarface, dog attack sceptics might be nervous about cosying up to a pit bull and showering him with kisses. Not so for Richard Byfield.

Mutt-loving Byfield, who is himself called ‘Pit Bull’, is acutely aware of the growing concern over dog attacks in Jamaica in the wake of a five-year-old being the victim of savagery in St D’Acre, St Ann, two Sundays ago. The boy, Mickele Allen, is now recovering in a New York hospital following surgery.

Byfield’s storied history with pit bulls and other so-called dangerous dogs spans 26 years, enough time and experience to give him a nuanced perspective on the weight of responsibility that falls on the shoulders of dog owners.

“I have a special love for pit bulls. They can be one of the best family of pets you’ll ever have, [but it] depends on how you care, teach and treat him. If you teach this dog to be aggressive, he is going to be aggressive,” warned Byfield.

“If you own a pit bull and you want him to be aggressive, don’t own him around kids and certain things unless you are going to give it the proper training and have a proper place to keep it.”

The dog enthusiast is adamant that state authorities should crack down on the stray-dog crisis on Jamaica’s streets, a trend exacerbated by the absence of a rigorous network of municipal pounds.

But that’s no excuse for negligent dog owners who fail to install reinforced concrete fencing instead of cheaper, less effective wire barriers that so many Jamaicans prefer.

“If you can’t control the dog, get somebody to train it for you. If you don’t know how to deal with it, it won’t work. Go and buy yourself a poodle!” Byfield, who owns at least six dogs, said.

That advice is gaining greater resonance in Jamaica after the November 17 passage in the House of Representatives of the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act 2020. The legislation, which provides for criminal liability for dog owners in the event of attacks, carries a maximum fine of $3 million. Convicts who fail to shell out the fine could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. The Senate is yet to pass the Bill.

Byfield knows what it is like being on the wrong side of the law.

At age 27, he was convicted, alongside Lisa Harvey, 34, of various counts of owning and breeding more than 20 dangerous dogs, according to BBC reports.

Byfield and his co-accused were jailed for six months. They were also hit with a lifetime ban from owning or keeping dogs.

The court said, however, that despite overcrowding, the dogs were kept in clean conditions.

He was deported to Jamaica almost a decade ago.

Slipping in and out of his English accent, Byfield, older and wiser, said: “Been in London for like 20-odd years. Realistically, I was like a rude boy … . I used to fight dogs for a living.”

He declined to go into details.

Scarface is from the bloodline of champion dog fighters, he revealed.

Byfield is big on having an exercise regimen for dogs, and he recommends keeping them fit on a treadmill.

“I make treadmills. It has two runners with a slide board. That gives the action; the dog runs on it. If you have a toy, you stand in front of him with the toy and he runs for you,” Byfield told The Gleaner.

“... Anything that comes from a working line, you are going to have to exercise it, going to make him work, then you tell him to sit.”

The canophile’s arms are a canvas of his passion, with tattoos of Scarface’s ancestors a testament to their pedigree and his love for them.

Byfield insists that owners offer their dogs quality time – a sacrifice that will be repaid with loyalty.

That’s a lesson learned by a gunman evading the police earlier this year. Clambering over the wall of his Kingston home, the trespasser didn’t live to tell the tale.

“Some things are better left unsaid. If you come over my yard and I am not there, I’m not responsible for what my animal does. They were trained not to jump the fence and go attack people, but if somebody jumps into my yard, … he’s supposed to hold the person till the police come, or do his job,” said Byfield.