The Department of Agriculture dealt with 69 reports of animal cruelty or neglect in 2018 and recommended five of those cases to be put forward for prosecution.
The Cayman Compass filed a Freedom of Information request earlier this year for details regarding reports of cruelty and neglect.
Fifty-three of the 69 reports filed were about the treatment of dogs. There were also 11 reports about horses, four about cows or bulls, and another concerning pigs. There were an additional four files not included in the final tally that detailed multi-agency responses to reports about cockfighting.
Three of the four cockfighting reports occurred in 2018, with the final one taking place in February 2019. The DoA recovered more than 70 fowls in a search of a home in March 2018 and arrested a man in connection with the property. A similar report occurred in June 2018, resulting in more than 30 roosters being handed over for destruction and an arrest being made for cruelty to animals.
The DoA had to euthanise another 26 game birds related to cockfighting in August last year and warned an individual for intended prosecution. The most recent report, dated 8 Feb. 2019, involved six confiscated roosters and an arrest for cruelty and offences under the Pharmaceuticals Law.
There were four months last year with at least eight reports of animal cruelty that the DOA investigated. The busiest month was January, when the DoA dealt with seven complaints about the treatment of dogs, one about a horse and one about a bull.
One of those reports involved a dog that was hit by a car on New Year’s Day and whose owner waited 18 days to seek medical treatment for the animal. The dog’s original owner had recently moved off island and the dog was being cared for by the new owner, who was ultimately arrested and attended court.
Two reports at one address
There were a pair of reports – dated 16 Feb. and 2 Aug. 2018 – concerning a single property.
In the first instance, the DoA was informed by an officer working for the Department of Environmental Health about a home with 30 dogs where the owner had pledged to have 10 removed from the property. The DoA responded to the scene and the owner repeated that they would re-home 10 of the dogs.
Months later, the DoA was alerted about the same home again by the property owner’s son. By this point, the home reportedly held more than 60 dogs plus multiple newborn puppies.
Following the 2 Aug. report, the DoA visited the home as part of a multi-agency effort on 5 Sept. and found that “upon arrival, the smell from the residence was emitting to the roadway. Contact was made with the owner … who had to walk around faeces and urine to exit the residence”. The officers were unable to enter the home “due to a very large number of dogs outside and inside the residence displaying aggressive behaviour”.
A perimeter inspection was conducted and showed that the residents were disposing of wastewater and solids from the animals to a vacant lot next door. Ultimately, the home’s owners agreed to surrender 51 of the 55 dogs on their property to the DoA. When the officers finally made it inside the home, they found that “the floors were covered in faeces and urine. The smell of ammonia was overwhelming”.
Nineteen of the dogs were ultimately euthanised based on prohibited breed status, display of aggressive behaviour or medical reasons, but nobody was warned for prosecution of cruelty or neglect.
Brian Crichlow, assistant director of the DoA, said that he cannot comment on public health violations as they are handled by the DEH. But he clarified why the owners were not prosecuted for neglect.
“With regards to the dogs, this was a clear instance of hoarding, where an owner genuinely cares/has emotional connection with the dogs and believes they are doing their best to look after them,” he said in an email response to a request for comment. “Apart from the overcrowding and less-than-sanitary conditions … the dogs, although unkempt, were well-fed and there were no significant/serious animal neglect or cruelty issues. Further, there is nothing in the Law that speaks to the number of dogs a person can own or house at one location. The Law only addresses animal welfare (neglect or cruelty).”
The DoA was part of a similar multi-agency effort that resulted in 53 dogs being seized from a home in Prospect in May 2019. That case was forwarded to the Office of Public Prosecutions for disposition.
Last year, the DoA assisted a horse owner in June that was feeding his animal diligently but the horse would not gain weight. An investigation was conducted and the horse was found to be very thin. The DoA determined that the horse had a healthy appetite but was dropping its feed due to bad teeth.
The DoA recommended a device to help with the horse’s teeth and impounded the horse to feed it and nurse it back to health. Months later – after the animal had gone from 700 pounds to a healthy 880 pounds – the horse was released back to its owner at no charge.
Another noteworthy case occurred in October when an untethered dog was sleeping under a car and was run over by an unsuspecting driver. The dog was immediately taken to Island Veterinary Services and found to have a fractured pelvis. The dog owner ultimately contacted the person who had brought the dog to the vet and attempted to arrange to pick the dog up. The owner could not afford the medical bills – which were in excess of $600 – and declined to pick up the dog from the vet for a week.
It is unclear what ultimately happened to the dog, but there were no prosecutions recommended. The DoA informed the complainant that “the money is a civil matter. DoA don’t get involved in money”.
16 toy breed dogs found in premises
On 21 Nov. 2018, the DoA received a report from an officer in the Department of Children and Family Services about a home “regarding nuisance of smell and excessive barking dogs”.
The DoA responded and conducted a perimeter inspection of the home that revealed the residents were disposing of wastewater and solids into a water source that did not belong to the owner. Several toy dog breeds displaying aggressive behaviour prevented the DoA officer from gaining entrance to the home.
“However, observation was made from the front door of the apartment and exposed a strong smell of urine and musky hot air emitting from the inside of the residence,” said the report. “The [animal welfare officer] also noted that the floor was covered in urine and food and all dogs appeared to be wet.”
The DoA returned to the single-bedroom home the next week and conducted a welfare inspection. The pet owner said that he had 18 small breed dogs inside the home and eight large dogs outside, and he ultimately agreed to surrender 16 of the toy breed dogs and seven of the large breeds.
One of the large dogs was euthanised due to prohibited breed status, and one of the toy dogs had an injury that necessitated removal of the left eye in a surgery that cost $650. Nobody was warned for prosecution, and the DoA instructed the owner how to properly care for animals in the future.
“Assessment was that although the dogs were unkempt, they were well fed,” said Crichlow of this report. “The unsanitary conditions were primarily a concern for public/human health. Although unsatisfactory for keeping of dogs which needed to be bathed/groomed, this was not a clear-cut instance of a level of neglect of cruelty that would warrant a prosecution.”
Crichlow went on to say that the DoA’s best option in this case was to work with the owners to surrender their animals on the condition that they would de-sex the two dogs they kept.
Months later, on 5 Feb. 2019, the DoA returned to the same residence. There were now 10 dogs at the residence; a shih-tzu at the property had a litter of six puppies and the owner was attempting to sell them for $350 apiece. The owner now had three large dogs instead of one.
The DoA report indicates that the owner was hostile to animal welfare officers and that he was “later warned by officers to cease his behaviour or he will be arrested for obstruction”.
The owner asked the DoA officers “what law governs the amount of animals someone can own in Cayman Islands” and told the officers there is nothing that compels him to neuter his pets. But the dogs were being kept in good condition, the DoA found, and no further action was recommended.
When Crichlow was asked specifically about that case, he said the DoA’s hands were tied.
“Regrettably, the owner reneged on their agreement to have the dogs that they kept de-sexed. Further, they received advice that there is no provision under the law to force an owner to have their animals de-sexed, which is indeed the case,” he said. “When the home was revisited, the persons had increased the number of dogs. However, on this occasion, the conditions met the Five Freedom standards used to assess animal welfare and there were no unsanitary or public/human health concerns.”
Five cases recommended for prosecution
Crichlow said that five cases related to animal welfare issues in 2019 have been recommended for prosecution. One of those cases, in fact, was disposed of last week. The owner of a dog diagnosed with cancer observed that the animal was not responding to medication and stopped dispensing it.
The owner last visited the vet in December 2018, and his dog had to be euthanised on 9 Jan. 2019. The owner ultimately pleaded guilty to permitting unnecessary suffering to an animal.
Crichlow was asked recently by the Cayman Compass how the DoA decides when a case should be put forward for prosecution and when confiscation of the animals suits the public interest.
“Every investigation is assessed on its particular merits, with the focus on the welfare of the animals,” said Crichlow. “The Department’s approach has and continues to be where improvements need to be made and the animals are not suffering, severely neglected, nor is there any obvious cruelty and the situation can be rectified through education, then that is the first approach.
“If an owner refuses to surrender animals and confiscation is warranted, then this matter would have to prosecuted through the courts as only a judge can then make a decision on the future of the animals (adoption or return to the owner) and the animals would have to be kept in the shelter until such time as the decision is rendered, which can take an extended period of time.
“Where there is, of course, evidence of significant/serious neglect, cruelty or where the animals are suffering or other serious violations of the law … then the animals would be removed and a case made for prosecution even if the person chose to surrender the animals. Case files are prepared and submitted to the [Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions], which then determines if the case moved forward to prosecution and which charges are laid.”