Chae-Marie Cooper probes into the recent attacks by dangerous dogs in Trinidad.
The country a reeling again from another round of attacks by the dreaded Pitbull terrier and other ferocious dogs which have killed and maimed a number of people, including children, over the last two months.
Once more there are calls for the enactment of the Dangerous Dogs legislation that remains stuck in the mire of political and administrative red tape.
Once more there are calls to ban certain dogs from the country. And once more dog lovers are rising to the defence of the animals.
On April 12th Ezekiel Renne Cambridge, a four-year-old preschool pupil was mauled by two dogs at Palmiste in south Trinidad while walking with his grandmother. He was attacked by a German Shepherd and an Akita mixed with German Shepherd which pounced on him, biting him on the abdomen and back. He was taken to the San Fernando General Hospital where he underwent emergency surgery and was listed in serious condition at the Intensive Care Unit.On Monday May 2nd, 13-year-old Shanice Archie of Goodwood, Tobago was attacked by a Pitbull while returning home from school. She received eleven stitches after the terrifying ordeal. Residents of the area said it was the fourth time that the same dog had attacked villagers.
The most recent attack, was a fatal one- the killing of 46-year-old mother of two Denyse Rackal. On May 9th Rackal, a security officer, was walking down Flamboyant Avenue on her way to work when she was attacked by five Pitbulls. She died on the spot. People who had tried to help said that she didn’t stand a chance against the five ferocious animals which were owned by a police officer.
That matter is still under police investigation.
The TTSPCA (Trinidad & Tobago Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) an NGO (non-Government Organization) is dedicated to promoting animal welfare in T&T. Some of the services they offer are animal adoption, boarding and transportation, re-homing, vet services, humane euthanasia and disposal. When incidents like the ones previously mentioned occur the TTSPCA is called in to perform humane euthanasia also known as “putting the animal to sleep.”
Professional dog trainer Anthony John has been breeding and training dogs for 40 years. He said that some people take owning a ferorcious dog for granted simply wanting to own “a bad dog” But he says it comes with immense responsibility. John says the first thing people need to understand and get clear is the fact that all dogs are dangerous. He also believes that all dogs should be given the same amount of care and attention regardless of the breed.
John, who over the years dealt with a vast variety of dogs, says that while some dog owners believe that having a Pitbull is as simple as having any other dog they need to note that Pitbulls were bred for fighting and so they have a higher temperament than the average dog. He stressed that dogs of this nature should be properly trained by a certified trainer before someone takes up the responsibility of becoming an owner. He says too often owners try to raise these dogs by being violent however dogs of this nature react to respect and not hate and so it is very important that the dog is obedient to its owner.
Some dog owners are seen in public recreational parks or even on the streets in their neighbourhood walking their dogs. Most times these dogs while on a leash are not muzzled and so if they were to get away from their owner the lives of persons around would be endangered. John gave an example of one time while training a pack of dogs one of the dogs got away and attacked him however because he is trained he was able to control the dog. The average man however he said is not aware of what should be done in these situations and so he said owners should always ensure that their animal is muzzled once they are taking them outside of their compound. He said while he is aware of the recent dog attacks he strongly believes that putting a dog to sleep is cruelty. He said that as an owner of dogs especially the breed he does not want to endanger the lives of others and that is why he believes that as an owner you should take extra interest in the raising of the animal.
John says he knows of many persons who have been attacked by dogs “however in most cases it was triggered by ill treatment by the owners”. He said owners usually find themselves in these positions because they do not take the time to do the important things like know the history of their animal, secure their compound, ensure that their animal receives exercise and most importantly show them love.
While says currently dogs are being painted in the media in a bad light but reminded that they also serve important purposes. He said dogs are used for security purposes in businesses, helpful in solving crimes for example narcotics detectors, and also in the recovery of kidnap victims but most importantly they too are capable of being loving creatures. He believes that someone needs to be responsible for getting the information to the public in terms of some of the precautionary measures that should be taken as a dog owner.
Many members of the public have been outraged by the recent attacks. One woman, mother of a toddler who wanted to remain anonymous, gave her experiences where there were actually pitbulls in the compound where she lived. She said they got aggressive every time her young son went anywhere near them and so she was extremely uncomfortable by their presence. She says it is because of this that she is in agreement with putting the animal to sleep because she does not know what she would do if she herself ended up in such situations.
But Bryan Fortune has been a mechanic for over 30 years. He has been the owner of pitbulls for 20 years and he says that they never attacked him or any of his neighbours. He runs his business from home and so he has to ensure that his client’s vehicles are protected while on his compound. He said his dogs are better than any alarm system and they are not only loyal but also respectful. He thinks that persons are becoming dog owners “for show” because owning a “bad dog” is now popular. He says that dog breeding is now such a big business that persons are getting carried away by the money but if the proper care and training is done some of these incidents can be avoided. Mr. Fortune says he loves his dogs and would never consider getting rid of them.
Exactly how big is the dog business? There have always been a wide variety of dogs in Trinidad and Tobago; however, since the introduction of the very popular Dog Guru some of the leading breeds of dogs, for example American bullies, Diesel and Razors Edge Bloodlines are now available. Some pups go for as much as $15,000 while some persons charge as much as $5,000 to breed their dog, experts say.
Some say the current dog craze is seen as a money making opportunity and also a bragging rite for many persons.
With all the incidents that have occurred the Dangerous Dogs Act is yet to be implemented. In an interview with reporters recently president of the TTSPCA Sita Kuruvilla said that she was concerned that if the Government should pass the legislation, dog breeders and owners will run into financial difficulties, which she fears will result in the “abandoning of dogs”. She said that the TTSPCA do not have the facilities to deal with the influx of dangerous dogs and so they are not capable of handling the situation. While there are members in society that are sincerely concerned about the well-being of these animals it is obvious that many are intrigued by the financial prospects of breeding them.
So where does this leave the victims and their families? On September 6th, 1999, Norris Young a 72 year old pensioner was mauled to death by a Pitbull. The owner of the dog was later released on $75,000 bail. Twelve years later we find ourselves being faced with the same situation with little change in the law.
As one calysonian put it: how many more must die?