Pitbull terriers were taken off the banned list of breeds by MPs yesterday.
The controversial dogs are now on the restricted category, along with American bulldogs and American Staffordshire terriers.
Walton Brown, the Minister of Home Affairs, said: “This means that dogs of these breeds are eligible for importation and breeding, but done under the strict guidelines and conditions set out by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. I can assure you that Bermuda will not have a scenario where anything goes. We will still have laws, and they will be enforced, and the penalties are severe.”
Mr Brown was speaking as the House of Assembly approved the Dogs Amendment Act, which will have to be approved by the Senate before it becomes law.
He said breed-specific policies have reduced the number of dog attacks, but resulted in household pets being seized and killed because of their breed.
Mr Brown added: “The animal wardens spend an inordinate amount of time confiscating and euthanising dogs that have committed no acts of aggression.
“This detracts from their efforts to deal with truly dangerous dogs or dogs that have endured abuse and improper care.”
Mr Brown said the killing of dogs because of their breed was “abhorrent”.
He added that he had worked with charity Angels Helping Animals to take seized dogs to the United States instead of them being put down.
He said the government kennels have often become full because of continued seizures of prohibited dogs.
Mr Brown added that breed-specific legislation will remain in place, with dogs such as large mastiffs and also wolves still prohibited breeds.
He said: “The step of recategorising the pitbull breed comes as a result of an acknowledgement that these dogs are already in the community, albeit that they are illegal.
“Therefore, the community is already feeling the impact of the dog’s presence.”
Mr Brown added: “The recategorisation is also based on our own data, which shows that only a minority of pitbulls have been a threat to public safety.Not most of them, and certainly not all of them.”
The act also creates civil penalties related to dog ownership so offences can be dealt with faster and without the use of the courts.
The legislation also introduces new animal welfare regulations, including a ban on cosmetic surgery.
Clipped ears, docked tails and the use of heavy chain collars will also be outlawed, while dogs will not be allowed to be tied up for longer than four hours.
The new law also enshrines rights for dogs.
These are freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour and freedom from fear and distress.
Cole Simons, the Shadow Minister of Education, who worked on the legislation while environment minister under the former One Bermuda Alliance government, said the amendments were “very long overdue”.
The amendments also include a provision to put a dog down if it attacks another animal.
Mr Simons told MPs his own dog was mauled and killed by another dog.
He said. “I’m saying this from personal experience. When you go through it, it changes your world. I think that the community will support this aspect of the law.”
The legislation also makes it mandatory for all dog bites to be reported to the director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Mr Simons said: “If we are to get close to the problem and identify the real source of the issues, we need to get good data. Veterinarian professionals should report their findings to the director.”
Lawrence Scott, the Government Whip, said dog ownership was similar to caring for a child.
He added that all dog owners should be aware of good training practices for their pets.
Mr Scott said: “It is irresponsible practices that lead to pitbulls getting a bad reputation.“It is about the responsibility of the owner themselves.
“The Act helps to guide them in the right direction without being too punitive.” Mr Scott said he had a “personal concern” about dogs being tied up for long periods.
He added that not all owners are able to fence in their pets.
Reacting today, campaign group Punish the Deed not the Breed declared itself “extremely happy” that the legislation passed.
A spokeswoman said: “We are extremely thankful to everyone who supported our petition and cause through out the years leading up to this change.
“We are very thankful the government has taken the steps to address this inhumane dog legislation to now promote a healthy happy lifestyles for our islands pitbull population.
“Responsible ownership is key, and we couldn’t be more excited that we’ve finally got some positive change.”