Columns

The things that dog us; what they say about us

Grace VIRTUE

Wednesday, February 26, 2014    

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Three disparate entities, three potent symbols of why, with all our wonderful potential and big dreams, it is so hard to climb out of the hole we have been digging since Independence.

Despite many pit bull attacks, several of them fatal, no action has been taken to address the issue. Even as Dr Barbara Carby, a certified dog trainer, writing in this newspaper recently, sought to make a case for why the breed should not be banned outright, there continues to be far more persuasive evidence for why it needs to be, as well as the need for 21st century animal control legislation overall. In the meantime, the pit bull's extreme aggressive tendencies and unpredictable nature make it an unwelcome addition to an already undisciplined and highly stressed environment.

A week ago, in Westmoreland, a man was shot during an argument which developed because a pit bull killed a dog owned by one of the victim's relatives. A week before, an 11-month-old British girl, Ava-Jayne Corless, was mauled to death by her parents' pit bull while she slept in their Blackburn residence.

"What will it take to convince people not to keep dogs like these; and to get across to owners of every breed, that no dog should ever be left unsupervised with a baby? asked Jack Straw, member of Parliament for Blackburn.

Will it take the mauling of a tourist to get our responsible ministries to treat this as a serious issue?

Forget the clichéd it's-not-the-breed-it's-the-owner argument snatched from American gun right activists talking points — the same ones who oppose legislation aimed at reducing mass murders. For that argument to make sense there would have to be a prototype of an owner that would guarantee only positive outcomes. No such thing exists. Equally misleading is the idea that pit bulls are a loving, gentle breed. They were created by crossing Old English terriers and Old English bulldogs to combine the fighting abilities of the one and the strength and speed of the other. They were created to be dangerous, and they are. This is why they are banned in their land of origin — Great Britain. Additional legislation will be introduced there this spring to include tougher sentencing for violations.

Currently, pit bulls are banned in more than 700 jurisdictions in the US but, just like guns in the hands of felons, they have their supporters. It is also fair to recognise the reality of our security situation, but a devil dog is not the answer.

Closely paralleling the inertia of this issue, is that on the use of illegal personal water craft or jet skis in tourist resort areas. Last year, seven-year-old Tanoya Hyman was picnicking on a St Ann Beach with her parents when a jet ski crashed into them. A completely idyllic experience ended tragically courtesy of our inability to enact or enforce sensible legislation.

Were it not for the human tragedies, Government's handling of this situation would have been laughable. In 2004, a 13-year-old California boy was also killed in Ocho Rios after his father unwisely allowed him control of a jet ski.

"We have always said jet skis should be banned, and we still hold strongly to that because it's a dangerous piece of equipment," said Godfrey Dyer, then president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association.

Shortly after, the Ocho Rios police seized six, said to be operating illegally and four boat operators were "warned for prosecution for breaches of the Jamaica Tourist Board Act," whatever that means.

Fast-forward almost 10 years to the 2013 accident and Tourism and Entertainment Minister Wykeham McNeill announced "new short-term measures" to regulate jet skis across the island, including a six-month suspension on importation for commercial purposes and "the strengthening and enforcement of regulations to ensure that Jamaica's waterways can be enjoyed by everyone without threat to their safety".

The story faded from the headlines and we reverted to our normal shape until it happened again, January 28, when Californian Tomas Torres Castillo was killed in Negril.

Last week, McNeill announced more short-term measures, effective immediately. I believe this is close to what my friend means when he says most of our officials think they can plough a field by turning it over in their minds.

With a backlog of more than 400,000 cases, some decades old, the justice system is compelling evidence of the depth of the rot in the public sector. There are probably quite profound reasons why it exists, but I will wager that there are basic reasons too -- like agents of the court not doing what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it.

Take all of these issues and add all the dysfunctional state agencies you know and you will find a common thread — a lack of respect (not to be confused with ego) for ourselves and the people we serve. For, self-respect suggests that we do what we are contracted to do. There is also a pervasive lack of accountability — a function of management — and a phobic avoidance of work at multiple levels. This is why a citizen will turn up at a government agency for the 20th time to be told again that their file has not come back from downstairs; and it is said as if what separates upstairs from downstairs is the chasm that opens into hell.

With this ethos, we have our sights set on the development of a major logistics hub. Minister of Finance Peter Phillips has his work cut out for him as he tries to bring 21st century industries into a space bereft of the framework that regulates productive societies.

Think about it. If we cannot solve crime, cannot enforce a ban on illegal dogs, cannot regulate the use of a small water craft to make our beaches safe, cannot efficiently run our own justice system, who on God's earth is going to take us seriously?

Ironically, Phillips' own discipline and resolve in the face of great hardship offers a ray of hope.

gvirtue@usa.net

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