Columns

Blame the deed, not the breed

BY PAMELA LAWSON

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

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I immediately knew that the beginning of this week was going to prove to be a challenge when from early Monday I received call after call from colleagues, pet owners and animal lovers alike, all referring to the Jamaica Observer's front-page article with the heading “Vicious Reality”.

In this fascinating article, Dr Guyan Arscott delivered an erudition regarding breed specific animal behaviour and the ability of the nation's already overwhelmed health service to meet the demands for dog-incurred injuries. The sheer ability for a physician to identify the breed of a dog based on bite wounds left me impressed and I must presume that this was apparently how Dr Arscott could present such impressive data and statistics to support his line of reasoning.

I fully endorse Dr Arscott's call that the Government must do all in its power to address this preventable social issue and stem the needless loss of life, limb and suffering. As always it is our children and the elderly that suffer the brunt from these traumatic incidents. Our archaic animal laws desperately require amending and would greatly benefit having even a fraction of the teeth that the large number of dogs that walk the streets of our cities and towns sport.

As for Dr Arscott's opinion about the temperament of rottweilers, pit bulls and (I quote) that even in the hands of responsible owners they are prone to dangerous behaviour… even the owners are prone to the attack of these dangerous animals and so, we have concluded that nature cannot be overcome by nurture…. My first question is, Sir, who is we? What scientific article or journal did you use to arrive at this conclusion? “Seventy-five per cent of global figures for dog attacks in 2009 was by pit bulls or Rottweilers, with 60 per cent of these being children.” These statistics were generated by whom?

Last, but by no means least, who is going to protect and safeguard our homes and family from the two-footed animal that creates murder and mayhem in Jamaica everyday, if it is not to be our dogs, many of which are rottweilers, pit bulls and mixes?

Allow me, Dr Arscott, to present research results conducted by a US-based organisation; the National Canine Research Council ( https://www.nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/injurious-dog-bites/dog-bite-relatedfatalities). This comprehensive review was derived from research and data gathered from a multitude of agencies. The findings were:

• Dog-related fatalities or serious injury invoke strong emotional response because they are largely preventable and predominantly affect children.

• Visual breed identification is no longer accepted as a responsible and reliable source to identify animals as studies have proven that people often inaccurately assign a breed to identify a dog.

• Children and the elderly are more at risk.

• Risk is higher of fatal dog bites when the dog is a sexually unaltered male.

• There is a lack of supervision, positive human interaction, owner control and a failure by owners to spay & neuter their animals.

Based on a 16-year study (2000-2015) the family dogs were rarely involved as 70.4 per cent were not pets. (So, pet owners, do not give up your pet Rottweilers and pit bulls just yet). Eighty per cent of dogs involved in fatalities could not be reliably identified and in 2016 the Centers for Disease Control fatality count for the entire USA was 31 persons… a far cry from this pandemic that is overtaking our nation owing to tremendous stray population of dogs on our streets and irresponsible pet ownership.

The conclusion was public education and owner accountability are vital. I urge Jamaicans, the media and well-meaning individuals to temper the sensationalism, let not the many injuries and lives that have been lost over the years by dog attacks be in vain. Let us come together and responsibly learn from mistakes of other nations, implement a national strategy and amend our legislation to address this scourge on our society.

Blame the deed, not the breed!

— Pamela Lawson is managing director at the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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