More than 60 people attended a candlelight vigil at Smith Barcadere on Saturday to commemorate dogs poisoned with the herbicide paraquat.
Among the attendees were people who had lost dogs to the deadly poison.
The group wrote to the interim Cayman Islands government asking for the herbicide to be banned before Christmas, but by Saturday had not received a response.
Local dog owners have been requesting a ban of paraquat for years, said veterinarian Brenda Bush of Island Veterinary Services at the vigil, who described as “mind boggling” the number of cases of paraquat poisoning she had seen at her clinic in Grand Cayman. “My healthcare team live in dread for the next case coming through the door because of the associated pain and suffering,” Ms Bush said.
She described how the poison affected a dog’s body, leading to a “long and drawn out death and the dog eventually suffocates”.
The group has organised a petition calling for a paraquat ban in the Cayman Islands, which has been signed by more than 5,000 people locally and overseas.
It has also started collecting a list of people whose dogs had been killed by the poison to create a map of where the dogs have been poisoned and to try to pinpoint where the poisonings have been most prevalent over the years. The members are inviting anyone who has lost a dog to paraquat to contact them to add the information to the data.
Jennie Boyers, a veterinary nurse at Island Veterinary Services who is among those heading the campaign to ban the herbicide, said paraquat appears to be used for one purpose only in Cayman – “the killing of innocent lives, our family dogs”.
At the vigil, she said paraquat is banned in many countries, including China and in nations of the European Union, adding that it is heavily restricted in the United States and can only be used under licence and requires the wearing of a full hazard suit and mask when being spread.
“Yet, here is Cayman, there are no restrictions. In fact, anyone can bring it on the island for our own personal use,” Ms Boyers said. “In Cayman, there’s no respect for paraquat. Large concentrated amounts are mixed in food and thrown casually into people’s yards or left at the side of the road. Even a responsible owner walking their dog on a leash is at risk.” Another nurse at the veterinary clinic, Joanna Laws, who had seen many paraquat cases and was aware of the dangers of an animal ingesting the pesticide, lost her dog after he ate paraquat-contaminated meat that had been left on the side of a road in West Bay.
“The level of concentration in that bait was so high, it probably would have been fatal to a small barefooted child who walked through it. This was on the public road just a few yards from her home,” Ms Boyers said.
Dog owners, people who had lost dogs and others who were at the beach and joined the vigil, stood in a circle holding candles and surrounding photographs of three dogs. Those dogs, all owned by Renee Knight, were poisoned in Prospect in two separate incidents in June and February last year.
“As far back as the 1970s, people have battled with the government for a complete ban. Why does such a small island in the Caribbean with a small amount of farming need such a deadly product? Is the Cayman government waiting for a child to die before they take any notice?” Ms Boyers asked.
Among those who signed the list of people who had lost dogs was Shirley Benabo, who told of three dogs she regularly fed who died in Prospect from suspected paraquat poisoning in the last few weeks.
Although it seemed there had been a drop off in poisoning in recent months, several dogs were killed over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.
“We have over 5,000 signatures on our petition. We can make a difference to the people, the animals and environment by getting paraquat and all its products banned from our island forever,” said Ms Boyers.
The group will hold a public meeting about the ongoing campaign on Wednesday, 16 January, at L’Ambience Meeting Room at L’Ambience Apartments at 37 Fairbanks Road in George Town. To hear more about the campaign or to add a name and location to the list of people who have lost dogs to the poison, e-mail [email protected]