Animal welfare advocates were horrified by the photos published last week when police and Department of Agriculture officials raided a Prospect home and recovered 53 small dogs being housed in unsanitary conditions.
“That is absolutely appalling,” Caroline Johnson said of the images showing dogs with matted hair lying in paper-lined cages, soiled with faeces.
Police have said an investigation into the suspected breeding farm is ongoing and no charges have yet been filed. That has not kept advocates such as Johnson, who is a director of One Dog at a Time, from mobilising to try to help. She and others are hoping the increased attention to an ongoing problem will lead to some changes.
“I think it makes people more aware there are instances like this even on our fantastic island,” she said. “It makes people more willing to come and help.”
She and others have been making calls to government offices to push for greater action on the legal front. Despite laws requiring a licence in order to have a dog breeding operation, no mechanism exists for issuing such licences nor for monitoring breeding operations. Prosecutions for animal cruelty are rare in the Cayman legal system.
Casey Keller, founding director of Canine Friends Cayman, said the government needs to invest more money into making sure animals are not mistreated. With only one animal welfare officer, she said, the DoA is understaffed in this area and needs more support. The agency’s animal welfare committee has reportedly not met in several years.
A request for information from DoA officials did not receive a response.
The advocates interviewed for this story indicated it was not a matter of DoA officials being unconcerned about animal welfare, but rather of not having appropriate resources.
“The DoA has its hands tied,” Keller said.
Attorney Selina Tibbetts studied animal welfare laws while at university in Australia. She said she has offered to help government officials rewrite some of the local laws to be more effective, but has not received a response. For instance, she said, when people adopt dogs directly from the DoA shelter, the dogs are not spayed or neutered before they are released.
“They don’t seem to have a mechanism by which they enforce spaying or neutering,” Tibbetts said. “It’s a shame and it’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully.”
It’s one example of many things that are not getting done in the area of animal welfare, she said.
“When it comes to the DoA, they may just have too much of a load,” Tibbetts said. “I think we’ve fallen behind legislatively and in enforcement in terms of where we should be. We have no proper animal welfare service here, really.”
She said she senses a reluctance on the part of the government to partner with the animal welfare charities on the island. Ideally, she said, the two entities could work together effectively.
“In Australia,” Tibbetts said, “the ASPCA can act as animal control officers.”
She thinks a similar arrangement could work in Cayman, taking some of the pressure off the already strained DoA.
“It takes a village for this kind of thing, with everyone playing their part,” she said.
Keller said hers and other agencies are hoping to gain access to the confiscated dogs in the coming weeks so that they can work on finding good homes for them. But that brings up another problem with Cayman law. Because dogs are seen as property, in order to prosecute the owner, they must be held as evidence. The DoA has limited kennel space, she said.
“They don’t have the facilities to do that,” Keller said. “If they keep all 53 dogs, they can’t take any more animals.”
Tibbetts said, the situation is an example of one of the changes that needs to be made in the law.
“It’s something that can be easily done in the legislature, whereby the DoA is able to release these animals. We shouldn’t have the government saying, should we prosecute or not, based on the release of the animals.”
In an email, One Dog at a Time’s Johnson laid out other steps she believes need to be taken to regulate breeding operations. Those included:
All breeders be licensed;
Each dog be microchipped and registered with information that includes details on the breeding parents; and
Stronger inspection and enforcement by DoA officials, including ensuring that prohibited breeds are not being propagated.
If nothing else, the recent raid has brought attention to such issues, Tibbetts said.
“This kind of situation highlights the difficulties that might be faced by the government,” she said, “and highlights what changes we need to make.
“It shocks a lot of people,” she added, “the fact the island is so small and these things are still going on”.