Wild and Loose in Jamaica

Abandoned animals are found throughout Jamaica.  These dogs and cats roam from place to place looking for whatever food they can find.  It isn’t unusual to hear dogs fighting over choice morsels throughout the day while cats seem to confine their confrontations to the evening and overnight periods.  

In doing research for this article, I contacted the police, a veterinarian, and an animal shelter.  I was surprised to find nothing in Jamaican law about abandoned animals except for an obscure 1906 law against cruelty to animals, which I understand isn’t enforced to any degree.  In some cases, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to track these heartless people.  In other cases, the neighbors don’t want to get involved by reporting a former neighbor to the police because of possible reprisal or being summoned for court proceedings.  Chances are the most that would come from a conviction would be a slap on the hand via a small fine.
My community has not been immune to this problem.  I can cite three instances of dog abandonment involving four dogs and one of a cat.  The cat ended up back with its original family about a week later after its young master pleaded with his mother to retrieve the cat. None of the dogs were that lucky.
The first dog lived with an unemployed single man whose only source of food was from discarded fruits and vegetables from the produce market, handouts of stale bakery products, and occasional scraps of meat from the butcher.  They both survived several years of living this way but neither of them is alive today.
About a month or so ago another single man left two dogs and the community where he is now to study to be a police officer.  Both of the dogs were female and attracted numerous single dogs from outside the neighborhood when they were in heat.  This is just another cause for the dogs to fight. 
I had seen these dogs running around the neighborhood knocking trash containers over looking for food but I thought it was just something dogs do.  One Sunday morning, as my wife and I returned from church, she pointed out one of the dogs walking along an eight foot high cement block wall.  It amazed me but yet I didn’t think any more about it.  About a week later, my next door neighbor was woken in the middle of the night and saw a dog walking on her wall.  Now I’m beginning to think this dog is very hungry and in search of food.  It wasn’t many more nights later from the dog’s last “walk” than it happened again on the same wall.  This time it woke us out of a sound sleep because of all the racket.  I searched and searched but couldn’t find any reason for the noise other than a couple of loose cement blocks had fallen into my yard.  However, upon awakening the next morning, I saw a dog lying inside my driveway gate and I recognized it as the dog we had seen walking on the wall.  I yelled at what I thought was a sleeping dog but discovered on closer inspection that she was dead as there was a trail of blood oozing form her head.
My first thought was what was I going to do with this dead dog.  I stated calling the neighbors to see if they knew who owned the dog so I could get them to dispose of it.  That was when I found out about our future law enforcement neighbor.  That left the disposal to me.  Do I bury it in my yard or somewhere else?  This was not something I wanted to do.  My next thought was to call the police.  Surely they would know the answer to my predicament. 
As I was talking to the officer on the phone, I was thinking about the last time I called them for help.  In my earlier days in Jamaica a cow had become entangled in a chain at the end of my driveway.  I thought for sure the poor cow was going to die right there.  The instructions I got that day from the police was to “call your butcher!”  This officer told me to burn the dog or put it in a plastic bag and leave it for the rubbish men who wouldn’t be coming for another five days.  I didn’t listen to this officer anymore than I did that first time.
I decided my best option would be to dump the dog in the bushes of a sparsely populated area within walking distance of my house.  I figured after a few days the smell of the decomposing dog would be gone and no would be adversely affected by it.  My neighbor at the end of the street, a retired police inspector, stopped me while I was wheeling the poor pooch to her final resting place.  He informed me that I MUST burn the dog!  His instructions were to get two old car tires, a bunch of wood, and some gasoline to light a bonfire.  Believe me, he was quite insistent that I follow his instructions to the letter.  Now that two people had told me to burn the dog plus the fact the retired police officer is also president of our community, I decided to follow his orders.
I dumped the dog where I had planned to originally.  After gathering some dead branches I headed back to my house for the gasoline and matches.  I didn’t really have a source for the tires so I decided to eliminate that part.  As I rounded the curve in the road I spied our local handyman/yardman.  It only took a few hundred Jamaican dollars to talk him into finishing what I had started.  The yardman was able to locate two tires which enabled me to carry out those orders to the letter.
Next we come to Sparkle.  He and I are the neighborhood watch team!  Sparkle barks and I watch!  Sparkle is as about as close to being a pet that you can get in Jamaica, as most dogs are only bred for protection purposes and cats are used as micers.  He always seemed well fed but was only groomed on occasion.  He was luckier than most loose dogs.  For several years he has been my garbage pail for chicken bones.  I thought it was better to feed them to him than have to retrieve my rubbish from all up and down the street.  When I found out his owner moved, I took him under my wings.  So far all that means is I make sure he has plenty of food and water.  I’m not sure how much of his personal hygiene he will let me do but the one thing I can do is give him lots of love and affection.  Sparkle’s welfare is pretty much assured at this point but the other female dog, who was the mother of the one who died in my driveway, is still alone, is still chased by male dogs, and is still going through all the rubbish she can find looking for something to sustain her for the time being.
Life is not easy for abandoned animals.  Their life span is shorter than those dogs and cats who are safely behind walls and gates where their needs are always met.  Jamaica needs to put new laws on the books to protect these unfortunate animals.  But, alas, new laws may go as unnoticed as the old ones written in the early 1900’s.  Perhaps more public exposure to this problem and that of neutering and spaying loose animals would help ease the situation.  Later…

About the author

John Casey