It is a rather unfortunate, yet undeniable fact, that the concept of animal control as a responsibility of government, whether central or local, appears to have long been abandoned here in Guyana. Animal control as a system of management of animals, on the one hand, to protect pets and animals from harm from humans or the environment, and on the other hand, to protect humans and property from harm and destruction by pets and animals, is not an easily identifiable effort by the authorities.
There was a functioning stray catcher unit of the Mayor & City Council of Georgetown many moons ago, but there are no signs that it still exists and functions. Of course, the prospect of impounding a cow or other such valuable livestock might stir some action on the part of the city if a report is made, but that alone is not proof that a functioning system of animal control exists outside of some outdated references in a few statutes.
The result of this insentient reaction to the problem by those able and empowered to deal with it is that more than a generation of children have grown into adults who have no sense of their public responsibilities as owners of pets. This has in turn led to much discomfort and fear for persons traversing the public spaces, especially children and the elderly. Dogs, in particular, are allowed access to the streets where they menace or actually attack passers-by whose fear-driven evasive actions can also make them vulnerable to approaching traffic or other accidental harm.
When we add the current obsession of dog owners in Guyana with expensive, specially bred, ferocious attack dogs, such as the Pit Bull, Rottweiler, and Doberman Pinscher to name a few, we can see that a cocktail of undesirable possibilities exists, and this situation must be strictly monitored and managed within a system of rules, regulations and enforced penalties.
Just a few days ago, a woman was viciously attacked by three Pit Bull Terriers in North Ruimveldt when they escaped from her neighbour’s yard. The resulting injuries sustained by her required over seventy stitches to the wounds, and one can only wonder at the terror she must have endured during the attack as she went about her legitimate business in a public space. The potential for a fatal end to this incident was voided by a passing “Good Samaritan” who fended off the dogs’ attack with a piece of wood.
And although there have been several deaths due to violent canine attacks over the years, there has been no clear and public consequences or menu of measures that are known to have been taken by the authorities in these matters. And it seems that as with so many issues resulting in police action and subsequent passage through the legal system, a private settlement can scuttle the entire process and render it moot. This practice is often at cross purposes to the public good, and on occasion might not even be in the best interest of the person(s) receiving the settlement outside of the due process of the courts. And while this is a legal issue, to be expounded on by those with the requisite training and knowledge, there should be some re-thinking on the manner in which some criminal and civil cases are being settled out-of-court.
And since criminal cases involve enforcing public codes of behaviour, it may be that the time is ripe for our statutes on animal control to be updated and completely overhauled. In many other jurisdictions, criminal liability can attach to dog owners based on the circumstances, and dangerous dogs with demonstrated capacity for violent unprovoked attacks in public spaces can be euthanized. The United Kingdom (UK) has passed legislation entitled the “Dangerous Dogs Act, 1991” specifically aimed at responding to “various incidents of serious injury or death resulting from attacks by aggressive and uncontrolled dogs, particularly on children.”
The Jamaica Observer newspaper, in bemoaning the fact that Jamaica is still without dog control legislation, reported that in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, “the owner or keeper of a Class A dog is liable to: A fine of $100,000 or five years’ imprisonment if their dog unreasonably injures someone; and a fine of $200,000 or 10 years’ imprisonment if their dog unreasonably kills someone.” Indeed, Trinidad has made recent amendments to its Dog Control Act, including updating the attendant enabling “Dog Control Regulations,” that keeps that country in tune with the reality of the times. Guyana’s own “Dogs Act,” on the other hand, is an out-of-date piece of legislation that, hopefully, will be repealed by new legislation aimed at animal control in general but with a component aimed specifically at dealing with dangerous dogs and their owners. And simply putting fresh laws on the books but without the enabling regulations and institutional framework to ensure the successful implementation of these laws will only be an exercise in futility and a waste of resources. Enough persons have suffered physical injury from actual dog attacks, enough persons have died from these attacks, and enough persons, including children and the aged, have to go through the psychological terror of evading and avoiding myriad stray dogs, “rice eaters” and other domestic dogs, and dangerous dogs off the leash and out the gates and in the public space.
Owners of animals in Guyana, particularly those classified as “dangerous”, must come to grips with their legal obligation to prevent injury or harm to others, and their strict liability for any injury, harm or damage to property by their animals.
Information dissemination is crucial in this regard.