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'We're stabbing at the dark'

Dogs Liability Bill will need support of other laws to be effective, says JSPCA boss

BY KIMONE FRANCIS
Senior staff reporter
francisk@jamaicaobserver.com

Saturday, November 21, 2020

MANAGING director of the Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) Pamela Lawson says the Dogs (Liability for Attacks) Bill currently before the Senate will need support from other laws if it is to be effective.

Lawson was speaking to the Jamaica Observer following her presentation at a virtual meeting of the Rotary Club of Kingston on Thursday when she made the comment.

She referred to the Bill, which was passed in the Lower House on Tuesday, as a “victims' Bill” which does not speak to the treatment of animals in order to prevent attacks.

The Bill, in its current form, provides for criminal and civil liability for an owner of a dog that attacks, injures and/or causes the death of a person.

Lawson suggested that amendments ought to be made to the Cruelty to Animals Act and the Keeping of Animals Act to cover any loophole that may be presented during a case.

“It doesn't really stop dogs from being the problem that they are. It doesn't insist upon registration [of animals]. It doesn't insist upon tagging. Those are things that we feel would strongly support the Bill for identification purposes; identifying the animal as well as the owners. Right now we're stabbing at the dark,” Lawson told the Observer.

She referenced the case involving five-year-old Mickele Allen, who was earlier this week badly injured after he was attacked by a pack of dogs near his home in St D'Acre near Alexandria in South-west St Ann.

Mickele was yesterday flown out of the island for reconstructive surgery in the United States after being scalped, losing an ear and suffering significant injuries to one of his arms.

His attack was the latest to be reported in what has become a series of maulings over the last two years.

“With the dogs we've taken in, for example, from St Ann, we don't know who the culprits are. We're going on word of mouth. There's just nothing to tell you who owns the dogs. We've heard so many different stories so far. It makes it very difficult.

“Unless somebody is seen being attacked directly in front of a yard where everybody recognises the dog(s) coming from that yard, it's very difficult,” Lawson stressed.

She said amendments to the aforementioned legislation to cover these issues would provide strong support for the Bill, acting as enforcers.

“Strengthening the other laws will do a lot to bring our animal problems to a level that we do have control; we can take action,” she said, adding that the JSPCA, a charitable organisation, has very little authority in matters deemed private.

Lawson said without the backing of the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the absence of necessary legislations, the JSPCA oftentimes cannot act in the way it should.

“You leave four dogs locked up but unsupervised for days and we get a call. We go to the property but cannot enter without the police. When these dogs become hungry and break free from the property, who are they going to look to for their meals? When those dogs get hungry enough, as huge dogs, or desperate enough, and get off the property and attack, I have to wait for that to happen? What do I do? Our laws are so pathetic there's nothing I can do,” she shared.

“So this is not going to be an easy task. Other laws must be upgraded and the minister has to get rid of this stray dog problem because all of a sudden everything is going to be stray dogs. No one will own dogs after they attack. So we need the other laws to assist this one. Persons are dumping dogs as well. That's cruelty to animals, but the fine is just $1,000. So we need supporting legislation. This Act is just to help our victims, and so it should,” said Lawson.