An edited version of this article was published in the Trinidad Express, Tues 17th Sept 2013
“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” D. Eisenhower
Trinidad & Tobago is a difficult place to care. In recent media coverage, The Honourable Attorney General was lauded for claiming that people “should be far more concerned about the lives of people than the animals that attack them”. He has also stated that: “Whatever issue the Veterinary Association has we will treat with it, but I want to forewarn persons that I am not about to let technicality and nicety lead to the death of another person.” This administration deserves commendation for trying to tackle this highly complex issue. However, these statements suggest that animal professionals and animal enthusiasts put animals before humans. This is unfortunate and misleading. As if it is not possible to care about people AND animals.
Just to clarify here, Vets work with people and animals on a daily basis. Clinical Vets interact daily with animals and spend a hell of a long time learning about them, particularly dogs. We are professionals who are specifically trained to provide comprehensive recommendations to improve the relationship between humans and dogs. We are also the professionals on the front lines who get stuck with the unfortunate consequences of outdated or misguided legislation. Just because professionals and animal experts (including Veterinarians, Animal Behaviourists, Trainers, Animal Welfarists and others) disagree with aspects of the legislation does not mean these professionals agree with no legislation. Their opinions and advice are critical given this Bill espouses supposedly responsible ownership to end tragic outcomes involving people and dogs.
Unfortunately, the Dog Control Bill in its current state has the Veterinary community extremely concerned. It wastes resources by focusing on dogs of a certain breed rather than focusing on dogs of any breed that could be out of control. While we gamble on the breeds of dog that are classed as dangerous, we miss the importance of proper rearing of dogs, socialisation and training. As my esteemed colleague, Dr. Lezama-Driscoll of Trinidad and Tobago’s Veterinary Association (TTVA) stated, “If we choose to enact legislation that has failed in other countries, some of which have had it for as long as 20 years, what kind of governance do we have? What kind of governance are we choosing? Are we willing to pick up the dregs of another country’s laws after they are already deciding to throw it out, and re-fashion it for our own uses?” Dr. Curtis Padilla, President of TTVA gives examples of legislation that are more applicable to our situation, such as the Antigua Dog Control Act.
The Vet Association is recommending that rather than classing dogs by breed, they should be split into two groups by weight with all dogs over a specified weight required by law to be microchipped, allowing owners to be identified.
Dr. Padilla also points out that implementing the Bill will be a herculean task. He stresses that there is no transparent, accountable Authority or Management Board in place to actually get the job done. Without that, among other things the Bill is flawed. Also, the Bill seeks to use stiff penalties to prevent owners from dumping their animals. To use the AG’s term here, this is a ‘nicety’. We are no more able to enforce this law than our speeding or littering laws. Hats off if this can be implemented, but it sounds like many other things in this country, a pie in the sky.
This Bill is like trying to treat a dog with fleas. One approach is to manually remove the fleas we see on the dog and squish them one at a time. Anyone who has dealt with fleas knows it is impossible to get rid of them this way. Pull out and squish as many as you like. Without treating the root causes, the fleas will continue to wreak havoc and suck the blood out of your dog, you and your children. They will joyously multiply and spread to your neighbour’s dogs while we celebrate the few you kill as a victory. Responsible ownership has to be more than just buzz words.
In the meantime some of the dog breeds listed in the legislation, such as the Fila Brasileiro and Japanese Tosa, are as uncommon in T&T as a pet Yeti. Many Vets have never seen one and are curiously awaiting the arrival of these breeds to their clinics. If you own a Yeti, bring it in too. While we wait, many Vets will continue to try to facilitate a positive relationship between people and animals with the help of fellow animal professionals. We will encourage discussions around responsible ownership as we recognise the increasing popularity of large breed dogs over 50 kgs including Mastiffs, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and plain ole big head pothound. When any of these dogs attack, maim or kill a human it is a tragic reminder that any dog can have behavioural problems, as a result of poor socialisation, misguided aggression training and overall irresponsible ownership.
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