Fri | Nov 22, 2019

Letter of the Day | Inadequate dog laws

Published:Wednesday | November 6, 2019 | 12:26 AM

THE EDITOR, Madam:

Many Jamaicans seem to have transferred the trust and confidence they reposed in the State to protect them from criminal elements to vicious dogs that keep them alert and guard their property 24/7.

The problem with this is that some of these owners are either inconsiderate of other people’s safety or negligent in their care and control of these creatures, causing them to be an ever-present threat to others.

Be that as it may, the law on this subject, the 1877 Dog Liability Act, has outlived its time and poorly addresses the plights of the Jamaican society. Under the act, the only relief for a survivor of a dog attack is compensation in the civil court. And this type of remedy is futile where the owner or keeper is a man of straw.

With certain choice comes responsibility. It is not beyond our realities to see dogs on the loose somewhere in a residential neighbourhood, making the likelihood of a dog-chase very real. And peradventure you are not a track and field Olympian, your chances of being caught is not far-fetched.

PURE CHAT, NO ACTION!

To make matters worse, a dog attack is sometimes fatal, particularly in cases involving children and the elderly. Therefore, owners and keepers must be prepared to restrain their dogs’ liberty in the interest of the public.

It is not surprising, though, that the matter is only worthy of political lip service, with promises to amend the century-old legislation, but to this date, no sign of success by either administration.

Enviably, the Dog Control (Amendment) Act 2014 for our neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago makes the owners or keepers of vicious dogs liable to a fine and five years imprisonment if their dog unreasonably injuries someone; and to a fine and 10 years imprisonment if their dog unreasonably kills someone. But importantly, the legislation makes it mandatory for keepers of vicious dogs to first obtain a licence to have these creatures in their possession.

Like a firearm, the possession of vicious dogs needs to be treated with more care. It is inexcusable to go on much longer without legislative changes. One life should be considered far too many to ignore the lacuna in the law.

Contending with criminals is enough. Our children should be able to play freely in their communities without the fear of being bitten by angry loose dogs. Vicious dogs must stay within their owners’ perimeters.

ALEXANDER L. SHAW

Attorney-at-Law