Mr Whittington Cole must not die in vain

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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The horrific story in yesterday's Jamaica Observer about the fatal attack by dogs on a 66-year-old man as he walked in his community of Hampton Green, St Catherine, late at night is an appalling commentary on the state of affairs in this country.

The most lamentable thing about the dog attack on Mr Whittington Cole is not merely that it happened, resulting in his death, but that such incidents have occurred over and over again for many years with the authorities seemingly unable or disinclined to act to prevent recurrence.

Each time there is hue and cry, including in the pages of this newspaper. Each time there is talk of drafting and strengthening laws and other proactive action to prevent such occurrences. There is talk of outlawing the breeding and domestic ownership of attack dogs — such as are alleged to have killed Mr Cole. There is talk of compulsory registration of dogs. There is talk of holding accountable people who allow their dogs to stray from home.

Each time there is talk of putting in place animal pounds and the removal of stray animals — including dogs — from the streets.

Each time the nine-day wonder phenomenon chips in. Memory of the horror fades. The issue is gradually forgotten until there is another horrific attack such as led to Mr Cole's death, even as he went about his own private business.

A check in the archives of this newspaper shows that as recently as October 2016 we found reason to comment on the attack by dogs on a St Andrew mother and her two young children. That commentary also highlighted the death of 56-year-old Mr Jerome Pow after he was attacked by pit bulls in the vicinity of Hagley Park Road.

Back then, in this space, we urged everyone, including media, to abandon the tendency towards nine-day wonder and to focus on ensuring that, once and for all, something is done to deal with this problem of out-of-control dogs maiming and killing people.

Back then, we highlighted an insert from a column written by then Observer columnist Ms Grace Virtue to illustrate the extent of the problem. We think it useful to do it again. Ms Virtue wrote: “In July 2011, 62-year-old Valerie Stephenson of St Catherine was killed by a pit bull as she walked in the community. Four months earlier, in Westmoreland, eight-month-old Oshawn Obermann was mauled by a pit bull owned by his parents. He survived with major injuries. In December 2012, two-year-old Ronica Gregory of St Catherine was killed by a pit bull and her sister seriously injured…

“Also in 2012, a woman and her 14-month-old son were attacked by a pit bull in Spanish Town. January 2, 2014, a three-year-old lost an eye after he was mauled by a pit bull in St Ann, and on January 4, 2014, a 59-year-old mechanic was mauled by three pit bulls in St Mary.”

Back then, we urged that all stakeholders, including the media, do their utmost to ensure that sustained pressure was brought to ensure action by the authorities. We are ashamed to say the pressure wasn't sustained. It turned out to be just another nine-day wonder.

It seems to this newspaper that all news media — including this newspaper — and all stakeholders have a moral responsibility to ensure that the latest victim to vicious dogs has not died in vain. We simply can't allow Mr Cole's death to become another nine-day wonder.

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