Christopher Serju | Collar dog owners
The recent pronouncement by Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw that he is prepared to ban the importation of certain dog breeds based on their potential threat to human life and limb would be commendable, if it had merit.
In a story published in last Tuesday's Gleaner, Minister Shaw warns that his administration is prepared to "ban certain types of dogs from entering the country in order to protect Jamaicans from being attacked by these animals".
The ordeal of 66-year-old Whittingham Cole, who died while undergoing emergency surgery in the wake of a vicious attack by dogs while taking a predawn walk in Hampton Green, St Catherine, has triggered a flood of knee-jerk reactions, such as the minister's - laden with emotion, but little else.
Information reaching The Gleaner is that the size of the puncture wounds inflicted by the dogs' leaves very little doubt that they were done by 'big-breed' dogs - Rottweilers and pit bulls among the perceived aggressors. However, investigators are yet to make a definitive determination as to the specific canine characteristics of the animals that mauled Mr Cole, or to arrest anyone for the reckless behaviour which led to the animals roaming free in public.
Should Minister Shaw get around to perusing his ministry's website, he will find that among the guidelines for the importation of dogs and cats into Jamaica is a section that reads as follows:
A person shall NOT import any of the following dog breeds into Jamaica:
- Dogo Argentino;
- Fila Brasileiro;
- Japanese Tosa; or
- Pit bull terrier.
So there are some breeds, including the much-maligned pit bull terrier, which are already banned. However, an issue the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association (JVMA) has been working for years to get policy makers to act on is the enactment of legislation and enforcement of same, governing effective responsible ownership of domestic and commercial animals. This is a matter which, over the years, has received little attention from parliamentarians such as Minister Shaw who have the power to make necessary, long-overdue effective changes.
"From as far back as 2004, when it became clear that dogs such as American pit bull terriers were being smuggled into the island, circumventing the legal importation process, the JVMA warned of the possible consequences given the lack of sufficient legislation and public practice with regard to responsible dog ownership, as well as the general view of many Jamaicans that their dogs must be 'bad' for security purposes," consultant veterinarian Paul Cadogan told The Gleaner in an earlier interview.
Successive administrations have been lethargic in their response, despite a number of well-documented incidents in which children and the elderly have been killed by packs of wild dogs. Sadly, Mr Cole's death is likely to spawn many more utterances of sympathy, with little by way of substantive action to make dog owners more accountable and responsible.
One such is this excerpt from a quote attributed to Minister Shaw in Tuesday's story.
"Instead of having the Government taking drastic action like banning certain types of dogs in this country, I am now warning everybody, go and protect your dogs, and protect our community and protect our children."
It shows clearly that Minister Shaw is barking up the wrong tree and continues to miss the central message from the JVMA that breed-specific legislation is not the answer to preventing dog bites, but rather responsible ownership of all canines. The JVMA's view that breed-specific legislation is not a reliable or effective solution is supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
"The issue of dangerous dogs, dog bites and public safety is a complex one. Any dog can bite, regardless of its breed. It is the dog's individual history, behaviour, general size, number of dogs involved, and the vulnerability of the person bitten that determine the likelihood of biting and whether a dog will cause a serious bite injury. Breed-specific bans are a simplistic answer to a far more complex social problem, and they have the potential to divert attention and resources from more effective approaches," the AVMA notes on its website.
It continues: "The AVMA supports dangerous animal legislation by state, county, or municipal governments provided that legislation does not refer to specific breeds or classes of animals. This legislation should be directed at fostering safety and protection of the general public from animals classified as dangerous."
While it is too late for Mr Cole, the self-styled 'Man a Yaad' must use his death as a springboard to prevent any such further tragedies, by transforming into a man of action, spearheading the enactment of laws with teeth that can go a far way in reducing the incidence of dog attacks.
Our collective safety hinges on it. If he fails to deliver, dawg nyam wi supper!