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Animals have rights too

A $1,000 could get you a mosquito zapper in today’s Jamaica. It is also what an individual can expect to pay if a Court finds him guilty of cruelty to an animal.

And on the flip side of that is the Dogs (Liability for Injuries By) Act of 1877 which says the owner of a dog may be held liable if his dog causes damage or injury to any person, cattle or sheep. This law refers to civil liability and not criminal prosecution.

The Jamaica Veterinary Medical Association (JVMA) and the local animal rights lobby want change. They are agitating for laws to be updated so that animals are humanely cared for and better protected and for members of the public to be guarded against vicious animals.  

Dr. Simone Johnally, Public Relations Chairman of the JVMA bemoans the fact that the Cruelty to Animals Act 1904, updated in 1995, considers that the abuse of an animal is worth a paltry J$1,000 fine or three month’s imprisonment.

She believes the law should be amended to allow adjustment for inflation. “In this way the law without being amended (which takes a long time to go through the judicial process) can still have bite,” Dr. Johnally said.

A cursory examination of the laws concerning animal welfare will show they are antiquated and silent on important matters such as licensing, registration, insurance, breeding and importation.

Dr. Johnally said the aim is to promote responsible dog ownership by introducing legislation which encourages accountability generally.

“As medical practitioners who are also concerned with human health and welfare, we have a vested interest in protecting not only animals from abuse but also the damage that animals can cause to humans,” she said.

Recently, persons recoiled in horror when they observed a dog, painted green and being paraded to show allegiance to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) during the run-up to the September 2020 election. Folks in the Parade Gardens community of Central Kingston seemed amused. But on social media others didn’t think this was cool. What if the paint had toxic ingredients? How would it affect the animal when it is grooming itself?

Dr. Nigel Elliot, immediate past president of JVMA, did not see the joke either. “Dogs do not sweat and paint will stick to their skin. If they go around with paint on their skin, the paint can be absorbed and that is harmful, depending on the type of paint that is used,” he explained.

This example signals two things: more public education on animal rights is necessary and also that mistreatment of animals takes many forms and may include acts of physical abuse, abandonment, neglect and torture.   

Dr. Johnallly sees an urgent need for various pieces of antiquated laws to be consolidated, amended and upgraded, to encourage responsible animal ownership and impose tougher penalties for neglect and cruelty.

“The Ministry of Justice has promised to update these laws with the Dog Liability Act 1877 being first on the list and we are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to give our recommendations wherever needed,” she said.

“As research continues, veterinarians and animal scientists are learning more about the requirements of animals and the benefits we gain from ensuring their health… protecting their welfare also helps us as humans, particularly in cases of companionship, therapy, research, food source and medicine,” Dr. Johnally added.

Meanwhile researchers have also found that animal abuse is not merely a crime against animal welfare but is also a gateway to possible acts of inter-personal violence at home and in the workplace.

To date there is no national registry of animals. For pedigree dogs, a registry exists with the Jamaica Kennel Club. 

A NAITS (National Animal Identification and Traceability System) is being implemented for cattle, and will eventually be extended to livestock like goats, sheep and pigs.

The Ministry of Agriculture has missed many deadlines to have cattle tagged and properly identified. They have promised that all cattle will be tagged by January 2021.

The amendments to the Dog Liability Act being proposed by the MOJ are as follows:

• In the case of attack by a dog for which the owner has NEVER received a warning – A fine not exceeding $500,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 6 MONTHS.
• In the case of attack by a dog in which there was no injury to an individual but for which the owner HAS received a warning – A fine not exceeding $1,000,000 or on default of payment, imprisonment not exceeding 6 MONTHS
• In the case of attack by a dog in which there HAS been injury to an individual – A fine not exceeding $3,000,000 or imprisonment not exceeding 3 YEARS
• In the case of attack by a dog in which there HAS been injury to an individual resulting in death or debilitating injury – A fine not exceeding $1,000,000 or on default of payment imprisonment not exceeding 5 YEARS
• In the case of attack by a dog in which there HAS been injury to an individual resulting in death and the offender is proven to have been present at the time of attack and failed to restrain the dog or render assistance to the individual being attacked – A term of imprisonment not exceeding 15 YEARS.

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