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Raffique Shah


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Gone to the dogs

By Raffique Shah
May 20, 2012

It's frustrating enough to have successive governments bark over the Dangerous Dogs Act for more than a decade without proclaiming it law. But it’s exasperating when, just as the woefully inadequate legislation is about to be given a few defective teeth, we have hordes of human-mongrels whining about the rights of these dumb but downright dangerous animals that savage hapless human beings.

You stand in your shoes and wonder aloud: This country has gone to the dogs!

Really, I am sick and tired of apologists for deadly dogs, and these include every breed, half-breed and no-breed I can think of, conjuring excuses and explanations every time someone falls victim to a vicious attack. Last week a Point Fortin woman almost lost her life, and that of her unborn child, following a beastly mauling by two or three dogs of differing pedigree. "Blame the owner, not the dogs!" the dogs-lobby chorused. Well, excuse me! It does not take an Einstein to figure out that the owner or owners are liable.

But what to do with the dogs? Impound them? Or cuddle and cradle them and coo, "Sweet doggie…my pudsin…" I say kill them. Or let me be diplomatic-put them to sleep, permanently. For far too long we have tolerated vicious dogs and their irresponsible owners, to the extent where today there may be more dogs than humans in this country. In fact, and smelly dog shucks is the overpowering stench that defines Trinidad and Tobago.

And don’t tell me about dogs, man. I owned dogs since I was a little boy (some of my then neighbours still call me "Brown Boy" after my first "pothound"). A string of mongrels would follow-Bruno, Eric (you figure that one!), John Dog (when Bjorn Borg was tennis champion) and finally a Lhasa Apso named "Shadow", a pet for my children who cried when he expired of old age. Thereafter, I decided I wanted no dogs.

I was fed up with having to clean dog mess. I would have nothing to do with "Rotts" when they were vogue, or with "Pitbulls" when they became the new craze. I didn’t want a dog that would one day turn his fangs on me or some family member or friend or even a stranger. Even so, I am unable to escape them. Several of my neighbours have dogs that freely roam my street. I swear there is a sign to the front of my house that says, in dog language, "Deposit thy turd here." When I leave my gate open, they decorate the driveway or elsewhere, a whiff of foul air and buzzing flies signalling to my household that we have to clean up other people’s dog mess.

As if that’s not bad enough, I have seen one of my neighbour’s pack of "pothounds" attack and bite passers-by who clearly do not have my temperament. Early o’clock, when I first demarked my afternoon walking space, the street, I need add, I had to enforce my right to it with a few sturdy kicks-to-the-belly, after which not a damn dog dared to bark at me, far less bite. Still, the stench of their mess is worse than their bite.

Dog lovers, please don’t tell me that your dogs keep bandits at bay. Except for a small number of trained canines, dogs are useless against determined criminals. With all the "pitbulls" we now have, not to add large numbers of other "high-breds", how come the incidents of dog-bites-bandit are never reported? Dog lovers should be proud to promote their watchdogs who have saved them from criminal attacks.

I remember reading somewhere that 90 per cent of times dogs bark, it’s directed at another dog, not an intruder. Ask me about their barking. Nightly, as I read in an otherwise peaceful environment before going to bed, I can calculate the time without looking at the wall clock. One neighbour’s dogs, inside his fenced yard, engage the other neighbour’s loose canines in what I have dubbed "bark-outs". They would erupt loudly and fiercely, for about three minutes a time. They would fall silent for about five minutes then go again, repeating this ritual every night over an hour or so.

Must humans be subjected to such animal misbehaviour in the privacy of our homes? How do you tell a dog to shut up, or not make his foul deposit on the street or in your yard? More importantly, how do we protect man from beasts, from savage attacks like the one that woman from Point Fortin suffered?

I do not think the Dangerous Dogs Act offers people the protection we deserve. The law should bring all dogs under its purview, meaning owners must license every pooch they own, from "pothound" to "pitbull". The fees can vary and not be punitive—but licences must be displayed on collars. Owners of dangerous dogs (scope widened) must have them insured (reasonable premiums can be worked out with insurance companies). If you cannot afford insurance, then you have no right to own an attack dog—it’s that simple.

Government should have the Act proclaimed on August 1, as planned. But there is need for serious revisions—in favour of man, not beast. Within a reasonable period after proclamation, any dog found unlicensed or straying in a public place should be tranquilised and taken away for disposal. The penalties for unsafe practises (by owners) are adequate in the current law, but they must apply to all dogs. In other words, if you own a dog, whatever breed, you must keep him on a leash or in a properly secured compound.

Finally, enforcement of the law will not work with the regular police. The municipal corporations should be equipped with special squads to enforce the law. It’s time we humans take back our country from these damn dogs.

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