Thu | Dec 5, 2019

Matondo Mukulu | Don't wag dog debate with foreign facts

Published:Sunday | September 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I have read the article submitted by Pamela Lawson, managing director of The Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, titled, 'Dog critics barking up the wrong tree' (August 29, 2018).

At first blush, I find myself agreeing with some of her points, but I think from the vantage point of her influential and experienced position, she could have used this platform not merely to tell us about what is happening in the United States, but to educate us on the type of legislative changes that are required to protect members of the public from what is an obvious risk to life.

The responsible ministries (Health, Security, Local Government and Agriculture) should not be dazzled by the figures relied on by Ms Lawson, not only because they are void of any local experience, but because the problem that we have in Jamaica on the issue is a paucity of legislation that the National Canine Research Council (USA) does not have to address, as the lawmakers (federal and state) have addressed them.

Second, the Constitution of Jamaica does place a duty on the Jamaican State to protect the lives of the citizens and also to take steps to ensure that citizens are not exposed to inhumane treatment.

As members of the executive, the responsible ministers must be mindful of the fact that it is not inconceivable that a person (child or adult) who is mauled (not killed) by one of these dogs will have a potential claim against the State, as the State would have failed to enact legislation that places strict duties and responsibilities on persons who form the view that they need these animals, for recreation, security, or as a means of social status.

The costs to the health budget seem to have escaped Ms Lawson, and this is unfortunate, considering that she went to great lengths to discredit Dr Guyan Arscott's views, which are influenced by his experience on the front line. This is where we expect to hear a strong but polite rebuke from the health minister and a vigorous defence of the views enunciated by Dr Arscott.




Of course, it is my hope that we do not have to wait on a court case against the State for lawmakers to act. However, until we get our act together, the attorney general should advise the Cabinet of the easiest way by which the State can require the creation of national register of animal-inflicted injuries to be kept by the Ministry of Health. The register should detail not only the injury received but its source and outcome. This is information that can be collected at public and private hospitals, by making it mandatory, irrespective of the status of the health provider.

This discussion cannot be led by figures that frankly have nothing to do with us, as such data offer anaemic guidance to us. Of course, I am not saying that we cannot learn from the experience of others. What I am saying is that we need to know what is happening in our own doghouse, before we start borrowing from the kennels of others.

- Matondo Mukulu is a barrister and former acting public defender in Jamaica. Email feedback to and