In Cayman, no beggars on every corner
Recently, a colleague returned home from The Cayman Islands, where he worked for a couple of weeks in one of their public hospitals. He regaled us with fabulous details of the hospital and the First-World quality of the treatment and diagnostic apparatus.
I have never been to The Cayman Islands, and his description intrigued and impressed me. Soon, the conversation turned to life as he observed it outside the Caymanian health sector, and in part of his account, he said the following: "Nobody begging yu on every corner, not even dawg on the road."
This last comment lingered in my mind and on mulling it over, I came to understand why. Let me first acknowledge that I am no jet setter and I would not consider myself widely travelled. I have, however, been fortunate enough to visit destinations in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.
In my travels, I have observed beggars even in the so-called First-World countries, but untended animals on the streets seems to be a phenomenon largely exclusive to the poorest nations.
Here, in Jamaica, from Morant Point to Negril Point, on any arbitrary day, one will see 'dawg, puss, goat, sometimes a cow or two, and even the occasional donkey' roaming our thoroughfares, whether in the traffic- laden, commerce-driven streets of downtown Kingston or the lazy, rural roads of Burnt Savannah.
On the surface, this observation may seem like a fairly benign issue and we may write it off as just another marker of poverty and our status as a Third-World country. This could be justified by the fact that residents in our more affluent climes are far less likely to meet the day with refuse strewn on the road after a night of foraging by strays.
Poverty is such a handy beating stick, and we use it as an excuse for so many of our shortcomings. I believe that our nonchalant attitude to civic responsibility is the manifestation of a deeper rot.
The reason we abandon our animals, thereby allowing them to be health hazards, a significant source of road traffic accidents, and a general nuisance, is the same reason we litter indiscriminately, urinate wherever there is a wall, and show no regard for public property: We have no civic pride.
Sure, we are all too ready to laud our status as Jamaicans when Usain Bolt demolishes another pretender to the throne, in any reference to Bob Marley, or, in certain circles, even when we boast about having the best 'weed' in the world. I hasten to qualify that Mr Bolt and Mr Marley deserve all the acclaim and recognition received from the nation for their dominance and prowess in their respective fields, but I submit to you that our national pride should be evident in our daily goings and comings, and not limited to big- topic successes only.
Perhaps the poverty that is so pervasive among us is more symptom than cause of our problems. Some may argue that pride and similar intangibles are not high on the list of priorities of the poor and hungry, but I would suggest that lack of pride only serves to reinforce the stranglehold of suffering.
Insofar as the dawg and company are concerned, it certainly does not help that existing laws regarding proper animal husbandry and littering are either sparsely enforced, or more usually, disregarded entirely.
I have never been witness to, nor have I ever heard tell of an incident where any authority has reprimanded or fined an individual or group for littering or held them responsible for any mishap in which their dog, goat, or cow may have had a central role.
In fact, animals that roam the streets and destroy property have no owners until someone attempts to remove them. At this point, every cow and goat has an owner willing to defend his precious property using the first weapon at hand.
When did we become so devoid of a sense of responsibility? It was not always this way. I can well recall my grandfather 'tying out' his goats and other animals in the mornings and diligently ensuring they were all accounted for in the evenings. There was always a profound sense of shame and accountability if one of his animals caused any mischief in the neighbourhood, but currently, this mode of thinking appears to be the exception rather than the rule.
We may not be able to replicate my friend's Cayman Islands experience overnight, but surely, we can commence the process. We are always so quick to lament that our island paradise should have been like Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, but frankly speaking, we have not shown that we are capable of harnessing the national pride and sacrifice it would require to make that transition, not to mention our lack of political will and leadership.
Is it not possible to establish an animal-control apparatus with regional authorities which is, in turn, responsible for parish centres? My vision is one in which all animals would be tagged/collared and livestock registered (this would also have positive repercussions for the control of praedial larceny).
Strays and untended animals would be collected off the streets and impounded for a specific period if tagged. Their recovery by their owners would attract a fine, and unclaimed animals would be spayed or neutered, sold, sacrificed, or used, as deemed appropriate, to generate income or provide a service.
Perhaps I am just the eternal optimist because despite the grim picture I have painted, I believe in us as a people, and I continue to harbour hope that our redemption lies just around the proverbial corner.
I feel if we were kick-started in the right direction with maybe even, dare I say, the simple enforcement of current anti-litter laws and animal husbandry statutes coupled with a resolute commitment to reuse and recycle on a national scale, then perhaps we, as do the Singaporeans, could swell with pride at our clean streets and refuse-free gullies. Maybe on that day, a visitor leaving the island might be heard saying to a colleague, 'I went to Jamaica and not even dawg...'.
- Dr Andre Vaccianna is a general surgeon at the May Pen Hospital. Email feeback to firstname.lastname@example.org.