‘Brownie’ can help cure Jamaica
Growing up in Jamaica meant that there were specific experiences we either had directly or were exposed to. Having a dog named Brownie or knowing one somewhere in the community was one of those “must grow up in” realities. I remember my terrier as a child. I had two — Brownie and Jesse.
Brownie was a relatively small dog with a short brown, tan, or sand-coloured coat that had an independent, intelligent personality; a terrier — still the most common mixed breed, aka mongrel, seen roaming our streets or tied on a long chain in the front of a yard as a form of alarmist protection for the home.
Undoubtedly, back then, most Jamaicans believed in two things:
(1) dog fi live outside, and
(2) dem fi eat the scraps from your dinner or some tu’n cornmeal (mixed with the scraps from dinner)
Today, this dog is known as the Royal Caribbean Terrier.
The word terrier comes from the Middle French chien terrier, which means “dog of the earth”. They were bred to eliminate rodents and other vermin from barns and stables. Terriers were used in the “poor man’s recreation” of rat killing, especially in England, where most of the terrier breeds originated and developed.
Now, Royal Jamaican Terriers are being exported to North America. In 2021, approximately 144 Royal Caribbean Terriers left the Montego Bay Animal Haven Foundation in St James and were adopted in Canada.
I think most Jamaicans were confused when the news broke about this event. Because who would want to adopt a “brownie”? They are common dogs with no actual use or function other than barking, running down car tyres, and breeding up during the year.
This mindset has caused many of these dogs to be treated poorly and abandoned. They better “go with God” if they try to venture onto the road to find some scraps to eat, seeing that many motorists have no regard for them and would sooner hit them rather than stop or swerve around them. As a result of how we treat these common dogs, many get mange, get beaten, become lonely, fall ill, and die.
So when news broke they were being taken away for better opportunities and treatment, social media went into a frenzy with memes and jokes and whips of snobbery about how these dogs would live life now when most ordinary Jamaicans could not get a visa.
Global research is pointing out that there is a direct link between acts of cruelty to animals and violence toward humans. Moreover, the mistreatment and abuse of animals is a significant indicator of child abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, intimate partner abuse, sexual assault, rape, and murder.
The minister of health recently launched an Animal Assisted Recovery and Care Project at the Bustamante Hospital for Children. It is a pilot project targeted at providing comfort to children at the hospital and aiding a smooth recovery after significant surgeries. I support it 100 per cent!
A simple and often regular interaction with a dog, especially a puppy, helps lower a child’s physiological stress response and helps them relax, promotes movement and happiness as a form of rehabilitation after surgery.
Dr Teddy Barks is the sweet golden retriever dog used in this pilot, and from what I see in the pictures, he is gentle and the children love interacting with him.
I want to make a case for our indigenous terrier dogs and how they can help our children who have suffered trauma and abuse, or generally need to learn how to love, feel loved, and show kindness.
Most people know that I am an animal lover and owner of seven dogs. Therefore, I speak from experience and some research.
The Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (JSPCA) and the Montego Bay Animal Haven (MBAH) work overtime to rescue and care for abused and abandoned animals. They not only take them in, but also carry out community spay and neuter clinics in low-income, high-stray population areas to minimise further abuse of unwanted puppies.
These organisations lament that many Jamaicans oppose adopting these dogs, and those who own them often don’t regard them worthy of the same medical care and attention as full-breed dogs.
In following some of their work online, it is clear that they are primarily donation-driven and need more resources to address the scope of stray animals and abuse on our island. Otherwise, the shelters are frequently forced to put unadopted animals to sleep to make space for more needy ones.
In the same way the Government has implemented the pilot care project at our national children’s hospital through the Ministry of Health, couldn’t the same approach be taken within some of our basic and primary schools to help children who may suffer from anxiety, learning disabilities, or anger management issues?
Puppies have the most remarkable ability to bring happiness to a child’s personality and improve their moods. They also bring hope and enthusiasm to a child who may want to rush to school to see their class puppy.
Animals may provide children physiological, emotional, social, and physical support. The use of therapy dogs with children is thriving due to their natural desire to open up to animals due to the animals’ non-judgemental presence.
Additionally, caring for a classroom animal teaches responsibility, builds confidence, and gives children a sense of pride and achievement, which would ultimately improve their social and cognitive skills.
Researchers have found that students’ companionship with a dog could help them remain in control of their emotions, as they used the dog as a de-escalation tool to calm their minds and bodies when they felt they were on the verge of an emotional crisis.
The Ministry of Agriculture, alongside the Ministry of Education, should identify a cluster of schools in the Corporate Area and Montego in which children under 10 years exhibit antisocial behaviour and fund the JSPCA and the MBAH to incorporate some animal care therapy within them using our indigenous Jamaican terriers.
So, instead of shipping them away or putting them to sleep, let us see how we can use Brownie to bring forth a calmer and gentler Jamaica.