Don't dawdle on the Dogs Liability Act

Editorial

Don't dawdle on the Dogs Liability Act

Monday, January 04, 2021

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A lifestyle feature in yesterday's Sunday Observer, 'Pawing their way into our hearts', reminds us that many people depend on their pets — not least dogs — for companionship and to help ease mental stress during crisis situations such as the current pandemic.

“Having her around has eased the anxiety and uncertainty we are all feeling at this time. One thing I'm sure of every day when I wake up is that I am blessed and I am loved,” one woman tells us in relation to her dog.

“The companionship and joy that he (dog) brings to my life daily is immeasurable,” says another dog lover.

Anyone who has ever owned and developed a close relationship with a dog will readily understand and appreciate those sentiments.

Sadly, none of that can ease the physical pain and psychological trauma of those mauled by dogs, often owned or managed by people who are downright careless. As is well known, people have died as a result of dog attacks.

Perhaps the most publicised recent case was that of six-year-old Master Mickele Allen, who came close to death after being savaged by dogs in St Ann last November. The child had to be airlifted to the USA for emergency treatment. Thankfully, the latest word suggests that after several surgeries he is recovering.

And, in late November, this newspaper reported the story of a female jogger who suffered multiple bites while fighting off a pack of five dogs in Portmore, St Catherine.

Such horrific stories have made headlines in this newspaper and elsewhere down the years, influencing last year's tabling and passage through the Parliament of the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Act, 2020.

The proposed law intends to ensure that dog owners are held responsible, by way of hefty fines and even imprisonment for substantial periods, if the careless handling of their animals results in attacks leading to injury or death.

We are told that the Bill passed through the House of Representatives with 17 amendments in November, and there were another 24 changes in the Senate early last month.

We wish we could say with certainty that the law will come into force soon. However, indications are that promulgation is likely to be delayed by more debate among interested parties in a bid to ensure fair and practical implementation.

This newspaper recognises, for example, that many dog owners are poor people simply striving to protect themselves and their property in Jamaica's crime-ridden environment. For some, the level of fines being proposed may prove impossible should their animals get them into trouble. A balance will have to be found.

Yet, by whatever means necessary, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck and legislators should do all in their power to bring the Dogs Act into force as soon as is practically possible. It's been long enough.

Also, it seems to this newspaper that the authorities must act by whatever means necessary to remove not just dogs, but all stray animals, from the streets.

For example, cattle obviously neglected by their owners pose an ever-present danger to motorists and other road users all over rural Jamaica.

Bringing an end to such behaviour must be part and parcel of the push to achieve that distant dream of an orderly society.


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