EDITORIAL – Roaming dogs: The responsibilities of pet ownership

Acting Sergeant John Kern and Animal Welfare Officer Erik Bodden greet a dog at the entrance to a home in Rock Hole. - PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

“The biggest way to fix this problem is for every dog owner to take responsibility for their own dog. Then the problem goes away.”
– RCIPS Acting Sergeant Jonathan Kern

It’s been said that there is no such thing as bad dogs, only bad owners. Perhaps there’s some truth to that.

But it is undeniable that dog owners have a legal and societal responsibility to look after their pets, and to make sure they are not a public nuisance or potential threat.

Too many of our islands’ dog owners are allowing their animals to roam the neighborhood, chasing cars and pedestrians, getting into scuffles with other dogs. In the worst cases, these free-range animals have terrorized children and injured unlucky bystanders. Just last Friday, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service officers responded to three reports of “ferocious dogs.” In one incident, a woman was bitten by a dog through an open car window. None of these dogs were feral or “strays,” police said – all were pets.

In late January, 7th grader Evie Sweetman described her own harrowing experience with a roaming pack of dogs on the pathway between Britannia and the road to Camana Bay. In a letter to the editor, she wrote, “I have never been so scared in my entire life, but it was worse for my brother. He is 9 years old and he thought he was going to die ….”

“How can this have been allowed to happen,” she asked. “As residents of the Cayman Islands, the government should protect us, not let wild dogs wander around, threatening people.”

In recent weeks, police and Department of Agriculture officers have been canvassing neighborhoods: educating owners, registering animals and handing out leaflets explaining the law. That seems to be a sensible measure, particularly since so many people seem unaware that the law mandates that owners register their dogs with the DoA, keep their animals leashed in public, or otherwise confine their dogs within the owner’s property.

Police and DoA officers cannot, and should not, be expected to be everywhere at once, continually issuing reminders about responsible pet ownership. It is the owners who must follow the law by setting and enforcing the rules for their pets. “Man’s best friend” is not an equal partner in the relationship.

Some owners may think they are doing their dog a favor by giving it the “freedom” to roam with the neighborhood pack. (Similarly, some argue that is unfair to spay or neuter a pet because it would “change” the animal’s personality, or deny it a satisfying “love life.”)

But pets are not people. Left to its own devices, even the best-natured pooch can cause mischief. When that happens, it is the dog that suffers the harshest punishment. As RCIPS Acting Sergeant Jonathan Kern told the Compass, “It is not the dog’s responsibility to look after itself, but unfortunately it is the dog that will take the blame and face the consequences if there is an incident.”

Negligent owners should face consequences, too.

On occasion, officers seize dogs that (along with their culpably careless owners) are known as “repeat offenders.” But perhaps losing a dog that already was only loosely held is not enough of a deterrent. Maybe the possibility of significant fines or community service would have more teeth.

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  1. The dogs that attacked Eva and her brother were not pets making mischief but a pack of wild, feral dogs with no owners.

    Those who claim these animals have the same rights as people might feel differently if it was their own child who was attacked.

    Trap them. Euthanize them.