Welfare Undersecretary Francesca Martini on Tuesday launched a campaign to scrap Italy's blacklist of dangerous dogs, replacing it with a law making owners more responsible for their pet's training and behaviour.
''There will be no prejudicial list that catalogues animals on the basis of their race by the end of the summer,'' Martini pledged.
Under the current law, there is a list of 17 breeds that are considered potentially dangerous, including Rottweilers, pit bull terriers, bull mastiffs and American bulldogs.
Owners of these breeds are required to keep them muzzled in public places and ensure that they pose no danger to others, while failure to respect the law can result in the animal being put down.
Martini's plan to scrap the list immediately came under fire from parents' association MOIGE and consumer group Codacons.
''It's undeniable that races such as pitbulls, Rottweilers and Argentinian dogos can be very dangerous and in many cases have severely wounded or killed people,'' said MOIGE president Maria Rita Munizzi.
''While an investment into the training for dog owners may be valuable, it's equally important not to let our guard down with these races - we have to consider the potential danger which can be aggravated by the inexperience of children,'' she added.
Codacons said the number of dog attacks had reduced dramatically since the 2004 introduction of the black list for the earmarked breeds.
''The dramatic accidents since have mainly involved breeds excluded from the list like Staffordshire Terriers or Bordeaux Mastiffs, or dogs on the list but inside owners' homes, where the law does not apply,'' it said.
''Research shows that for a dog it's normal to react by biting human beings, and this cannot just be put down to a lack of training''.
But Martini's proposal received support from animal rights organisation ENPA.
''We know the list is useless, damaging and creates collective psychosis and phobias,'' said ENPA President Carla Rocchi, adding that the organisation had years of experience of rehabilitating so-called dangerous breeds who had been trained for the illegal dog fighting market.
''Even an ex-fighter trained to be ferocious can be reeducated to be sweet and live peacefully with man,'' she said.
ITALY HOME TO 600,000 STRAY DOGS
Martini also appealed to Italians not to ditch their pets when they go on holiday - an annual occurrence over the summer months.
A 2004 law introducing 1,000-10,000 euro fines and a one-year jail term for holidayers offenders has so far failed to stem the practice, with some 150,000 dogs and 200,000 cats abandoned each year.
Most of the suddenly unwanted pets are left by roadsides as their owners set out for beach or mountain resorts, and an estimated 85% of dogs die within 20 days of being abandoned.
According to Welfare Ministry figures presented on Tuesday, there are 600,000 stray dogs in Italy, only a third of which are in kennels.
Puglia is the region with the most strays at 70,700 dogs, followed by Campania (70,000), Sicily (68,000), Calabria (65,000) and Lazio (60,000).
In addition to carrying infectious diseases and harming livestock, stray dogs wandering on roads can cause accidents, the ministry said.