Roni Wildoner was traveling along the eastern coast of Grand Cayman in October when she spotted a bull tethered on the side of the road near Breakers. She investigated and found that the animal was tangled in his rope. A plastic makeshift water trough, with jagged, sharp edges, was empty, save for a handful of leaves.
Ms. Wildoner said she was concerned that the bull, tethered very close to the roadway, was tangled in the brush, and that it had no shade and no water.
Ms. Wildoner, who visits Cayman annually with her family, said she was shocked by the way some animals are treated here. In her home state of New Jersey, she is the chief of the Bergen County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, an agency that investigates and prosecutes animal cruelty. In 2012, during another visit to Cayman, she highlighted the treatment of an iguana that someone had taped to a piece of wood to offer as a photo opportunity to tourists visiting Hell.
“As a tourist traveling along your coast, I find it appalling that animals are tethered along the roadway in extreme heat without water or adequate shelter from the elements,” she wrote to the Cayman Compass.
“Are there laws in Grand Cayman?” Ms. Wildoner asked.
While there is nothing in Cayman Islands Animals Law that prohibits tethering, parts of the law regulate the tying up of animals on the side of the road and describe when it would be considered animal cruelty.
However, according to the Department of Agriculture, no one has ever been prosecuted under this section of the law, and no one has ever been fined or sentenced to jail time for mistreating a horse or a cow. The Animals Law 2015 revision specifies that a person who “tethers, confines or keeps any animal on a lead under such conditions or in such a manner to cause that animal unnecessary suffering” has committed an offense of “cruelty.”
The law also states that an owner who leaves an animal “on a premises” has to make sure the animal is monitored periodically and has access to drinking water and food, is able to move freely, and has reasonable shelter against the sun and rain. The law says animals have to have access to accommodation that has appropriate drainage, is clean, ventilated and an appropriate size.
According to the law, an animal owner who violates these conditions is “liable on summary conviction to a fine of four thousand dollars and to imprisonment for one year.” Two animal welfare officers with the Department of Agriculture are assigned to investigate reports of animal cruelty and neglect. The investigating officers examine the situation to determine whether there are any potential animal welfare issues, and if there are, the owner is contacted.
Their policy is to first attempt to educate and work with the owner to make sure acceptable animal welfare practices are followed. The officers will then make recommendations regarding changes or improvements that must be made, determine a time line for compliance, and conduct follow-up visits to ensure that the owner complies with the recommendations.
Brian Crichlow, assistant director of the Department of Agriculture, said, “Only then, if education and cooperation fail to achieve the desired results,” does the department move to “enforcement and prosecution,” although “in cases of severe animal cruelty or neglect, a different approach would be taken.”
Mr. Crichlow said investigators find some form of violation of the Animals Law in about 30 percent of the cases related to tethering, but “in the vast majority of instances, the violations are corrected through education and working with the owner.”
The department does not receive reports about tethered animals very often, he said. In 2015, it received six reports in which someone was concerned about the condition of an animal that was rope-tied.
Others who monitor animals in the community said they receive reports about tethered animals more frequently. Sharon Hinds, president of the Cayman Islands Equestrian Foundation, said she gets calls weekly from concerned citizens about tethered horses. When she does, she checks to see whether the horse has shade and water, and whether it is injured or suffering from malnutrition.
“I looked at one the other day. There was no shade, and it had kicked its water over,” Ms. Hinds said.
She said she reports a case to the Agriculture Department if something is wrong, but that she does not call the department very often because by the time she gets out to check on the horse, many times it is either not in distress or it has been moved.
Ms. Hinds said she gets a call usually once a week about a horse that is tethered along the side of Bobby Thompson Way, but she sees that the horse has water and is not in distress.
“I can’t report it if I don’t see any serious violation,” Ms. Hinds said. “Do I think it is the best way to keep a horse, on the side of the road like that? No, I think it’s terrible. But we can’t be proactive to get that horse taken away unless there’s a problem with it … if the welfare officer takes a horse away, it’s because it’s serious neglect. Having a horse tied on the side of the road isn’t necessarily neglect in their eyes.”
Even when owners are complying with the law, an animal may still be suffering or in danger, according to some experts.
Brandy Darby, associate professor of veterinary clinical sciences at St. Matthew’s University, said she has seen tethering “really negatively impact the welfare” of some horses.
“Things like rope burn injuries around the legs, rope burn injuries around the neck of the animal where the tether becomes too tight … they get tangled in it all the time,” Ms. Darby said.
She said that in addition to seeing tethers that aren’t good for a horse’s welfare, the animals frequently do not have enough water.
“There’s often a lack of shade, where they can’t get out of the sun, sometimes there are items in [their] environment that are sharp and rocky, that could be a potential [cause of] injury,” Ms. Darby said.
“And then a lot of them are tethered right by the road. If they hear a loud noise and they bolt and run. if they break free, they’re at risk [of] being hit by a car.”
She said she thinks that in some cases of problematic tethering, a warning and efforts to educate the owner are sufficient.
“Give the owner the benefit of the doubt. I’d certainly rather see an owner be educated on how to keep his animal properly,” Ms. Darby said.
In the past, Ms. Darby said, she has seen cases where the owner is a repeat offender and the treatment of an animal never alters despite multiple warnings, or the owner acquires another horse after authorities have already taken one away.
“You need to step in at that stage,” Ms. Darby said. “And the law allows for that.”
Ms. Darby said she is frustrated and saddened that “we allow this to go on.”
“You can’t let bad become normal,” she said. “Someone has got to speak up and say this is not normal, this is not acceptable and we need to try to change this.”
Ms. Darby added that parts of the Animals Law on tethering are vague. “‘Keep an animal under a lead under such conditions that cause unnecessary suffering.’ Well, what is unnecessary suffering? … Why is any suffering acceptable?” she said. “There’s no definitions that go with these words.”
The Animals Law states that the department can issue guidance as to the manner in which an animal can be tied up, and the Department of Agriculture has produced an educational brochure that elaborates on the conditions that should exist when an animal owner is tethering.
The brochure is much more specific than what is written in the law, specifying that water should be kept in containers which cannot be tipped over, and that the tethering location
should not be steep, rocky or waterlogged, and should be clear of rubbish, hazards, heavy brush, fences, wires and obstructions in which the animal could become tangled.
The Department of Agriculture also told the Compass that the tethering of stallions is “discouraged due to their propensity to get loose when mares are in heat or when persons ride mares close to tethered stallions.” However, this is not specified in the Animals Law, nor in the department’s guidance brochure.
According to Ms. Hinds, who represents the equestrian foundation on the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, which advises the government on policy matters relating to the care of animals in the country, this will likely be part of the next revision of the Animals Law.
“Why stallions and not mares and geldings, I have no idea,” Ms. Hinds said.
She added that the equestrian foundation is against tethering in general.
“We don’t approve of it. We think it’s wrong, and we would like it to be against the law,” she said.
Ms. Hinds said another modification to the law that might improve the way tethered animals are treated would be to give officers the ability to fine owners on the spot for violations, similar to the way traffic tickets are given.
She said that the time and effort it takes to prosecute someone for a violation of the law makes it impractical.
“By the time they go to the second visit, and they’ve complied with everything, then why are you taking them to court?” Ms. Hinds said. “Far better to go out there and talk to them, give them a warning, go back to them and if they haven’t done it, give a fine.”
Ms. Hinds said that while she thinks “there’s no excuse for it,” the mistreatment or neglect of animals seems to have become more common because “the cost of living has gone up, and people are losing their jobs.”
“Animals are the first things to be neglected,” Ms. Hinds said. “You feed yourself and your family before you feed your horse.”
She said another issue exacerbating the problem is that people are just not educated as to how to properly care for their animals.
The Department of Agriculture says that while tethering cattle and horses, “is a traditional and common practice in the Cayman Islands, the Caribbean and many countries worldwide,” animal owners “must take care, be vigilant and monitor the animals regularly.”