Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Cedric Stephens | When marauding animals attack, the law can bite back

Published:Sunday | August 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM

This is a dog bites man article. My interest in the topic was sparked by an experience with a dog attack.

A Jamaica Observer August 15 editorial opinion, "Mr Whittingham Cole must not die in vain" also helped. He died from injuries after being attacked by Pit Bulls while walking in Hampton Green, St Catherine.

My attack occurred years earlier. The scars remain. A Rottweiler crawled over the four-foot fence of premises it called home. My wife and I, along with our 10-month old Rottweiler puppy, had just passed the premises. We were on the other side of the road, some distance away from the house where the big, black dog had scaled the fence.

Fidel, the animal's name I later learned was not content with sinking its canines into my left leg. One tooth barely missed my shinbone. Another punctured the calf or gastrocnemius muscle on the other side of the leg. Our puppy, Caspian, which was less than half the size of the fully-grown dog, and quietly minding its own business, was also bitten on its front leg.

The medical expenses that were incurred amounted to $20,000. It is very doubtful whether this information was ever captured In a database.

The editorial writer bemoaned the fact that incidents like those in which Mr Cole was killed or, possibly like mine, have occurred repeatedly: "For many years" the authorities have seemingly been "unable or disinclined to act to prevent recurrence(s)".

The writer, despite the availability of Internet resources and access to archives, performed well below average. He or she merely played the blame game when the stated aim was to preserve the memory of Mr Cole, and others like him, who were killed or injured over the years by marauding dogs.

 

LONG HISTORY OF ATTACKS

 

There is information available on dog attacks.

Four persons were killed, and eight individuals, including children, were injured by dogs during the period July 2011 and August 15, 2018, according to the Observer. These numbers are not necessarily representative of the numbers islandwide.

In 1997, Marilyn Duff reported in a letter to The Gleaner that four per cent of the trauma cases treated at Accident and Emergency Unit of the University Hospital was due to dog bites. She did not say what the actual numbers were but indicated that the incidence ranked 'very high' when compared to the statistics of other countries. The Humane Society estimated that six persons on average are bitten by dogs every minute in the United States.

Local dog attacks occurred in St Catherine, St Andrew, St Mary, Westmoreland and St Ann, according to the editorial opinion.

The breed involved in all the attacks was Pit Bulls.

Dogs have been causing injuries to persons and livestock in Jamaica for nearly 150 years. In 1877 a law, The Dogs (Liability for Injuries Act), was passed. It makes the owner of every dog "liable in damages for injury done to any person, or any cattle or sheep by his dog".

 

TRINIDAD CAN TEACH US

 

Karla Georges and Abiodun Adesiyun carried out an investigation into the prevalence of dog bites to primary schoolchildren in Trinidad in 2006. The study was done to estimate the incidence of dog bites in children between the ages of 812 years against the background of "an increase in the pet population, the popularity of dangerous breeds of dog, a high stray dog population combined with a dearth of information on the risk of dog attacks to children to determine risk factors associated with dog attacks".

Even though Trinidad & Tobago's population is much smaller than Jamaica's, it is suspected the environment in which the attacks occur are similar. The investigation found that:

- 28% of children were bitten at least once by a dog.

- Most attacks occurred outside of the home (58.0%) followed by the victims' home (42.0%) and were by a dog known but not owned (54.6%) by the victim.

- Many victims (33.0%) were bitten without having any interaction with the dog.

- The majority (61.9%) of the victims did not receive professional medical assistance.

- The lower leg or foot was most often injured (39.3%).

The Trinidad & Tobago government brought enacted a Dangerous Dogs Act on August 1, 2012. It was passed by the Parliament in June 2000 and was "languishing on the books for 12 years", according to trinidadexpress.com.

The purpose of the Act is to prohibit "the import and breeding of dangerous dogs and impose other restrictions on them, to regulate the manner in which owners or keepers keep dangerous dogs, and to ensure that such dogs are kept under proper control to guarantee public safety. Dogs categorised as dangerous under the law include Pit Bulls, Terriers, Fila Brasileiros, and Japanese Tosas, as well as any dog bred from these breeds, but it also authorises Trinidad's Minister of Local Government "to declare any other type of dog as a dangerous dog".

In Trinidad, according to Law Library of Congress: "Owners of dangerous dogs are required, within three months of the Act's entry into force, to have the animal spayed or neutered and registered with the Ministry of Local Government. Owners must also obtain an annual $500 license for the dog from the Municipal Corporation in the place of residence; those who fail to do so face a penalty of a $50,000 fine and a one-year term of imprisonment."

So, there you are. I gathered data and tried to analyse the problem.

Mr Cole's death and others like him who died or who were injured in attacks by dogs should not be in vain. We should continue the process to update our laws and enforce common sense regulations to protect members of the society. Solving problems like these seldom reside solely with the authorities.

- Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: aegis@flowja.com