CARE: Pit bull’s troubled story shows need for education, licensing
The pit bull’s pups, which sell for between $500 and $2,000 depending on the market, could have netted her owners more than $100,000.
A lifetime of being constantly bred, with little or no investment in even basic veterinary care, has taken its toll on the dog, named Bella by her rescuers.
No longer able to breed, she was abandoned by her owners and then discovered on a West Bay beach, riddled with tumors, blind in one eye and suffering from heartworm.
Animal welfare campaigners say her case is not the exception. She is just one example of the abuses of breeders who exploit their dogs for profit without reinvesting a cent to look after them.
The breeders who used and abused Bella, and others like her, broke no laws or licensing regulations because none exist in the Cayman Islands.
Lesley Agostinelli, of Cayman Animal Rescue Enthusiasts, believes this has to change. She said this is more than a simple case of one badly treated animal.
No regulations exist to ensure that the puppies bought from backyard breeders are vaccinated, spayed or neutered and no checks are carried out to ensure prospective owners are able to look after their pets properly.
“This activity needs to be treated as a professional business,” Ms Agostinelli said. “If breeders had to register their business, obtain trade and business licenses, entertain health and safety inspections and provide proper medical care, we would anticipate that would bring an end to the atrocities of backyard breeding and the negative impact on our communities from the over-population issues that arise from this activity.”
Brenda Bush of Island Veterinary Services, who examined Bella after she was found on Barkers Beach, said the dog was likely to be about 12 years old. She said Bella had been bred all her life and likely had around 10 to 12 litters of puppies.
A “safe” amount for a healthy female dog would be around four litters, according to international guidelines. It is recommended that dogs stop breeding when they are about 6 years old.
Ms Bush said the effects of the breeding on Bella’s health were severe.
“She is the epitome of what is wrong with the unlicensed, unregulated breeding. A lot of dogs, especially pure breds, are pushed to breed beyond what is safe for them because the owner can sell the pups and make good money. In this case, there has been no reciprocation. None of that money has been spent on medical care.”
She echoed CARE’s call for regulations and routine inspections of breeders.
“You are not selling inanimate objects, this is a living breathing individual,” Ms Bush added.
Though the streets are filled with strays and the Humane Society shelter is so full it no longer can take in new arrivals, demand for pure-bred pups remains high.
German and Belgian shepherds used to be the popular choice. Pit bulls are always popular and now smaller “toy dogs” appear to be in vogue, according to Ms Bush. Depending on availability on the market, these pups sell for between $500 and $2,000, she said.
Some breeders look after the dogs perfectly well, but many do not.
Ms Bush added, “A lot of people who buy these dogs are well-meaning and feel they are rescuing them from the breeder, but they are just supporting them to do more.”
CARE is currently looking for a foster home for Bella as she undergoes treatment.
In a statement on its Web page, the organization warns: “Bella is what happens when people are allowed to indiscriminately, and without regulation or oversight, breed dogs for money. Bella is what happens when people choose to purchase a puppy from backyard breeders. Dogs like Bella are thrown away every day, to either live or die as strays, or to be killed at overcrowded and under-resourced shelters all over the world.”
Ms Agostinelli believes the Department of Agriculture could follow a licensing and regulation model used in Calgary, Canada, where license fees help fund a system of oversight and enforcement, as well as community education.
“CARE would like to see an increase of government support for animal welfare,” she said. “We would really like to see a return to dog licensing, as we are aware that euthanasia and intake rates quadrupled at the government pound after government dog licensing ceased. There is also a desperate need to increase educational support within the schools and consider adding animal care to the school curriculum.
“We need to see a more proactive attitude and change when it comes to animal welfare. This is a very small island, yet the number of dogs that are produced each year is staggering. Hundreds of dogs each year are euthanized by the Department of Agriculture due to them being abandoned or picked up as strays and never claimed. Hundreds of dogs each year are transferred overseas to the shelters in the States by animal rescue groups due to overcrowding.
“We feel that, with enforcement and legislation on dog breeding and a shift in attitude by increased education in the schools, the population can be better controlled and our entire community will be a lot happier and healthier.”
CARE says its main mission is to offer free community spay and neuter surgeries to all dogs and cats, in a hope to reduce the number of unwanted litters. Since incorporation, it says it has financially sponsored 1,097 surgeries through Island Vets.