Three pets killed in the past month
But the food, laced with large quantities of the deadly weed killer paraquat, would be a death sentence to any neighborhood pet curious or hungry enough to investigate.
On this occasion, the bait was spotted and handed in to the Humane Society by a worried dog owner before any animal was injured. Others have not been so lucky. Three dogs were killed this month as the disturbing trend of deliberate dog poisonings resurfaced in Grand Cayman.
In one incident, bait was thrown into a gated yard in Newlands and two dogs were killed. Vets who treated the dogs say the owners have a young child, sparking fears that the reckless targeting of animals could lead to a child being injured or killed.
Vets and animal welfare workers say dog poisonings typically increase around Christmas. They speculate that more people are at home during the holiday season and potentially troubled by the nuisance factor of neighborhood dogs.
Brenda Bush, of Island Vets, which dealt with the three cases this month, said there was little dog owners could do to avoid their beloved pets falling victim, particularly if their dogs were maliciously targeted in their own yards.
A petition to ban the lethal herbicide, signed by around 5,000 people, is currently with the Department of Agriculture.
But for now, paraquat remains legal in the Cayman Islands. Intent to kill dogs is difficult to prove and many cases go unreported to police.
Ms Bush said that in almost all cases the poisonings were deliberate, with large quantities of the herbicide often found in bait laid for the dogs.
The last significant spate of poisonings was in summer 2012 when vets reported treating dogs every other day. At least 15 dogs were killed in two months, according to Caymanian Compass archives. A further four dogs were killed over Christmas 2012/2013. In another incident, vets say, several dogs fell victim to a mass poisoning on South Sound beach.
In many of those cases, the bait had been indiscriminately laid for any dog to pick up. Ms Bush said it was possible that the poisoners were targeting strays but the effect was that all dogs were targeted.
Jennie Boyers, a veterinary nurse at Island Vets who organized the petition, urged people to be responsible pet owners, not to let their dogs roam the neighborhood and to be vigilant about what they picked up from the street. Even that is no guarantee that they will be safe.
A dog belonging to one of Island Vets’ own nurses was killed last year after eating a small piece of meat while walking on the leash in West Bay. The vets sent the bait away to a U.S. laboratory for analysis and found the concentration of the weed killer to be 200 times what would normally be expected if it was used as a herbicide.
Ms Boyers said, “There is no question that the aim is to kill dogs. It seems to pick up at holiday times when people are at home more.”
The symptoms of paraquat poisoning are vomiting and diarrhea, followed by serious damage to the respiratory system, causing a slow and painful death similar to drowning. It is normal for vets to euthanize dogs who have been poisoned to save them the pain.
The Humane Society has also expressed concern. Kim Arch, a veterinary technician at the charity, said bait laced with paraquat had been handed in to the shelter by a pet owner from Prospect who had already lost one dog to the poison.
The amount of stray dogs and the level of neglect and cruelty towards animals in the Cayman Islands has been troubling charity workers for some time. The Humane Society shelter has been forced to close its doors to new arrivals because it is already full of unwanted dogs.
The Cayman Animal Rescue Enthusiasts organization has focused its efforts on spay and neuter initiatives. It is currently campaigning for legislation to regulate dog breeding and to require people to register their dogs, a system used in many countries to improve accountability when dogs misbehave and compel people to vaccinate and spay or neuter their dogs.
Lesley Agostinelli, of CARE, said spay and neuter was the only effective way to control stray dog populations and urged people not to resort to using paraquat. She said the escalation of dog poisonings to the point where bait was thrown into enclosed yards was “frightening and sickening.”
She believes it is likely connected to neighborhood feuds over dog fouling or other nuisance behavior.
“Sadly, I think a lot of this goes back to law enforcement issue again,” she said. “If people had somewhere to go to make complaints and have enforcement carried out with penalties attached, would that make a difference? Would that stop the poisoning, the cruelty, the breeding and the over-population? I don’t know, but I think it would go a long way in giving folks a way of dealing with the issue rather than taking the law into their own hands.”
CARE would also like to see increased education in schools, new legislation and better enforcement of existing laws.
“A spay and neuter law followed by the incorporation of a nongovernmental organization such as the RSPCA needs to be formed. Having an organization privately funded but recognized by government as the enforcers of animal laws will go a long way in improving the lives of animals in the Cayman Islands,” Ms Agostinelli added.