Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The protection of animals from abuse and neglect in The Bahamas: There is a widespread culture of brutality against animals...The stories of dogs and cats being beaten to death, lit on fire, decapitated, are too numerous to ignore... And, the links uncovered by mental health experts between animal cruelty and the other forms of violence and deviance makes this an issue that should be on everyone's agenda in a country plagued with crime and anti-social behaviour

Is animal protection in the wrong hands?

"The picking up of dogs
is not going to cure the problem - what's going
to cure the problem is
getting the animals spayed and neutered, keeping
dogs in your yard, and if
you want it to have puppies, you must find homes for those puppies and then
have them spayed. It's a
people problem, it's not
an animal problem."
-- Bahamas Humane Society President Kim Aranha

Tribune News Editor

Animal rights activists say they were caught off guard by Minister of Agriculture Larry Cartwright's announcement that Animal Protection and Control Act has been in effect in New Providence for the greater part of a month.

The Act contains provisions for an animal control board and corps of wardens with the power to investigate claims of abuse and neglect, but the Bahamas Humane Society and other groups say they haven't been contacted to take part in either, despite being promised they would.

Instead, it seems the government has chosen to rely on authorities already in existence before the new Act was passed, particularly the Animal Control Unit that runs the notorious government pound.

In making this announcement, Mr Cartwright said: "The laws are only as good as the enforcement. That is our hope."

But how far the minister can have cause to be hopeful depends on how qualified members of this unit are to enforce the provisions of the new law, and animal rights campaigners who spoke to Insight are somewhat less than optimistic.

As the name implies, there are two aspects to the Act - animal protection and animal control. The unit has always been associated with the latter.

When interviewed in 2009, its supervisor Kirkland Glinton characterised their role as controlling a potential public health issue.

Their task, he said, is to round up stray animals in order to "remove the disease element from the population."

The unit captures and euthanises around 50 dogs a week, but this has little impact on the number wandering the streets of New Providence.

Mr Glinton admitted that by the time 50 dogs are collected and killed, another 50 have already appeared in the same areas.

To make any progress at all on the control front, the unit's staff require more support, training and education, the administrators said in 2009.

They also called for an additional 15 or 20 staff to help run the unit; more equipment, ranging from vehicles and traps to animal food, cleaning agents and syringes; building repairs, and a facility where animals can be tested for diseases to separate the healthy from the ill.

According to a number of animal rights activists that take an interest in the unit's activities, nothing has changed over the last two years.

One said: "There has been no training of any kind. The unit is still manned by the same number of people and conditions haven't improved at all."

So much for control.

But what of the other aspect of the Act - the protection of animals from abuse and neglect?

That there is a widespread culture of brutality against animals no one denies. The stories of dogs and cats being beaten to death, lit on fire, decapitated, are too numerous to ignore.

And, the links uncovered by mental health experts between animal cruelty and the other forms of violence and deviance makes this an issue that should be on everyone's agenda in a country plagued with crime and anti-social behaviour.

But far from contributing to the protection of animals, the unit has been accused in the past of actually adding to the problem.

Before the Tribune's interview with the unit's administrators in 2009, a 14-year-old student wrote to the newspaper to share the horrors he claimed to have seen at the pound.

He described: a live dog locked in a kennel with a dead dog, faeces covering the floors of the kennels, and animals locked up without food and water.

His complaints sparked public outrage and the formation of an activist group demanding better conditions at the pound. It quickly attracted more than 500 members.

The Ministry of Agriculture was quick to issue a statement denying the claims and chastising the young boy, but an unannounced visit from The Tribune confirmed the substandard conditions.

If there have been any changes in the past two years, they have been invisible to animal cruelty campaigners.

How then, are we to trust this unit to protect animals from violence at the hands of humans?

The new Act does contain stiffer fines and penalties for those who abuse and neglect their pets, but the problem was never that an offender could not be deterred because the consequences were too light; but rather that he or she usually never actually faced any - despite the existence of fines and penalties under the old laws.

The Cabinet has chosen to implement the act in New Providence first, precisely because there is an Animal Control Unit here. Yet in Grand Bahama, where the lack of a government agency has caused the local Humane Society to take the lead, much more has been done in recent years to enforce animal cruelty laws.

This included one or two high profile prosecutions and awards being offered for information when an abused animal is discovered. I don't remember the last time any of this happened in Nassau.

The example of Grand Bahama points the way to how the Act should be implemented: those who have been trained and have experience in animal control should be better supported in their efforts, but wherever possible, the power of enforcement should be placed in the hands of the campaigners and volunteers who care deeply about animals and who already dedicate time and energy to the improvement of their lot.

These should be the government's new wardens, and should be given the authority to call in law enforcement at the slightest sign of animal abuse or neglect.

Only then can we have any real hope of breaking the culture of contempt for the rights of animals which has led to our stray problem in the first place.

At the end of the day, protection is the best form of control.

* What do you think?

November 28, 2011

tribune242 Insight