As a poison, paraquat does what it’s supposed to do. It kills – effectively and efficiently. It is inexpensive, easily obtainable and incredibly lethal to everything from weeds to pets to people.
Paraquat is also believed to be a contributing cause of Parkinson’s disease to those, mostly farmers, who use the herbicide over a prolonged period of time. Because of its risks of use – and misuse – many countries have banned paraquat, including, in 2007, the countries of the European Union.
Paraquat, however, is still legal and in widespread use around the world, including the United States. In America, a license is required to use paraquat, which involves education and training on its safe usage. In addition, as safeguards from poisoning, paraquat sold in the U.S. is dyed blue, given a strong odor and has an agent that induces vomiting if ingested.
Those safeguards aren’t in place in the Cayman Islands, and paraquat has too often become the method of choice for those who find dogs annoying as a way of ending that annoyance. Even though in 2009 the Cayman Islands Department of Agriculture stopped importing and selling paraquat, the government put no restrictions on the importation or sale of the herbicide in the Cayman Islands to prohibit individuals from bringing it into the territory. Since then, many more dogs have died from paraquat poisoning.
Because of the way paraquat has been misused here, public pressure has been building to ban the toxic chemical. In 2012, more than 4,800 signatures were collected on a petition advocating a proposed ban, and a public demonstration, planned for Thursday outside the Government Administration Building, has now been canceled because of the government’s announcement that it will address the issue.
A question, however, remains: What about all of the paraquat already in the Cayman Islands?
If poisoning were the intention of purchase, a little bit goes a long way: A teaspoon or two of paraquat can cause death in a human, and even less is needed to kill a dog. If the government decides to “grandfather” all of the current stocks on the island, people who bought it for the purpose of poisoning dogs might have enough on hand to continue their nefarious practice for many years.
While government is wrestling with this reality, another related issue presents itself. The poisoning of dogs is, in part, a symptom of Cayman’s considerable “stray dog problem,” marauding packs of canines (reminiscent of Third World countries) that no government has seen fit to address.
If government continues to enforce only sporadically its own Animals Law, and irresponsible dog owners continue to face no consequences for not “leashing” their pets, then those who have been dealing with troublesome dogs their own way – by using paraquat – could just choose another poison and continue their reprehensible behavior.
Yes, government is to be applauded for finally addressing the importation of paraquat, however, it has much more to do in resolving the underlying issues of stray dogs, irresponsible pet owners and incredibly callous people who take it upon themselves to poison these animals.