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Leash stray dogs - Veterinary body decries delay in establishing population control, ownership laws

Published:Sunday | August 19, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

Until the issue of responsible dog ownership and population control is given legislative priority, tragedies such as the mauling to death of senior citizen Whittington Cole by free-roaming dogs is a risk to which most Jamaicans will remain exposed, according to the Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association (JVMA).

However, Dr Paul Cadogan, JVMA public relations chairman, says the media focus on attacks by big-breed dogs such as Rottweilers and pit bulls masks a much bigger picture of dog attack on humans in general as well as widespread livestock depredation.

Cadogan told The Gleaner yesterday that while the Ministry of Health does not track dog bites, "The little mongrels bite people and the issue goes well beyond Rottweilers and pit bulls.

"We had the very sad case of an elderly human man who met a horrific death. Our hearts go out to the family and all those affected by similar tragedies over the years, but it is part of much bigger issue," the consultant veterinarian noted.

The wider problem, he said, includes the actions of farmers and other livestock owners who often react to the slaughtering or injuring of their cows, goats, and other livestock by dogs by setting poisoned bait. This then results in the wholesale killing of intended targets as well as other animals, which usually undergo a slow, painful death.

"That is why we advocate for a broader animal-welfare act which covers cruelty, responsible ownership and what people need to do and what happens if they fail to observe the law, including with respect to liability," Cadogan said. However, policymakers have been lax in their response, he charged.

"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," Cadogan said earlier yesterday in a statement to the press.

He continued: "In 2009-10, the association participated in a committee established by the minister of agriculture which examined the broad issue of the movement of companion animals into and out of Jamaica, which included the issue of dangerous dogs. In its final report, recommendations were made with regard to new and updated legislation, the promotion of responsible dog ownership, a national effort at dog population control through spay-neuter, and the regulation of dog trainers. It was only in September 2017 that the regulations regarding the importation of dogs and cats were finally changed in keeping with the recommendations, and we still await changes in regard to the other matters stated."

Such regulations would also go a far way in stemming the misguided concepts advanced by animal trainers, according to the veterinarian. He highlighted as counter-productive the prodding and teasing of pit bulls to promote aggressive behaviour as integral to making them 'bad' and effective guard dogs.

"Certain treatments have a kind of psychological impact, and when you prod and tease pit bulls, what that creates is a fear-biting aggression, and so when the animal is traumatised into aggression, it is reacting to defend itself, not to defend its territory or its owner.

"The defence is, 'You are trying to hurt me, so I am going defend myself by hurting you before you can hurt me. I am going to put you out of commission to make sure'," Cadogan insisted.

The JVMA has reiterated its appeal to pet owners to have their dogs (and cats) spayed or neutered so as to help reduce the population of free-roaming animals. Contact can be made with your local veterinarian or the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) to get more information on having this procedure done.

The organisation also used its press release to appeal to policymakers to reduce the risk of another person being injured or killed as happened to Cole.

It said: "We must redouble our efforts at reviewing the outdated acts and creating modern animal-welfare legislation that meets international standards and guidelines, at public education, at dog-population control for the protection of both people and animals. The JVMA stands ready to partner with the JSPCA and other animal-welfare organisations, the media, the relevant government entities, and all stakeholders.

"Concerned members of the public can send their ideas and comments to Let us make this happen. We owe it to our people. We owe it to our animals."