Strays, strays everywhere!

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Stray animals have long been a problem in our twin-island state. They’re everywhere – skinny, dehydrated horses tied to trees for days on end, and dogs, cats, cows, chickens and goats that seem to have lost their owners.

But our focus today is the over-abundance of stray dogs that roam the length and breadth of Antigua & Barbuda.

The population of dogs is at the stage where it has overwhelmed even the most avid dog lover. One can barely walk the streets without encountering a homeless canine. They roam in search of food and shelter, knocking down garbage bins, scattering litter across properties, generating clean-up work for owners of homes and businesses alike. Most times they travel in packs, which can be rather intimidating for pedestrians. Many of the strays are mangy, covered with ticks and open sores.

Residents have been dealing with the problem of stray dogs for many years and over time, it has only gotten worse.

A growing population of strays comes as a result of poor dog-handling practices. Such is the problem here in Antigua & Barbuda.

It seems that people obtain dogs for an array of reasons without giving much thought to having adequate space to keep, or if feeding them becomes too expensive in the long run, they abandon them. They dogs are then left to roam the streets, foraging for food.

Another problem rests with owners who fail to spay or neuter their pets, resulting in their dogs reproducing without owners making allowances for the extra mouths to feed. In such instances, the unwanted animals eventually make their way onto the streets.

Efforts have been made by various organisations to improve the country’s dog-control situation. The PAAWS animal shelter and Dogs and Cats of Antigua are just two such that have rescued many abandoned dogs and cats and restored them to health before finding homes for them.

Stories abound of the countless visitors and animal lovers, who have rescued mostly starving, emaciated dogs from beaches and roadsides, paid to restore them to good health, and then relocated them to the US and UK where they have been welcomed into loving, caring households.

The Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society has also been instrumental in collaborating with teams of veterinarians from the US, as well as local vets — to host mass spay and neuter clinics with the hope of making a difference in stemming the stray dog population.

It is interesting to note that dogs that have had the surgical procedures done had been brought to the clinics by their owners, but as the problem of the mangy strays persists, whose responsibility is it to prevent those in heat from finding each other to procreate, thus perpetuating the cycle?

For a solution to even begin to take shape, there must be co-operation from all ends – legislators, law enforcement, dog owners and the ordinary citizen.

Laws are necessary to govern the conditions for pet ownership otherwise the situation becomes out of control, much like current circumstances.

However, what is unique to Antigua & Barbuda where this problem is concerned is that even though many laws are on the books, there are myriad problems with enforcing them.

Quite recently, we reported the plight of the Heritage Quay Merchants Association as they communicated their distress due to the nuisance presented by packs of roving dogs whose numbers are noticeably increased on the days that cruise ships are in port.

The merchants’ appeal to the Dog Control and Registration Authority for help to stem the problem have not yet had the desired effect, as up to last week we observed dogs interacting with tourists in St John’s.

To some, the issue might seem inconsequential, but it’s a serious one. Antigua & Barbuda is a tourism-dependent destination, and in addition to basking on the beaches of secured hotel properties, oftentimes visitors enjoy walking and taking in the sights and sounds of the city. It is therefore undesirable to have their experiences ruined by stray dogs.

We would also like our residents and business people to be afforded the opportunity to conduct their affairs in a safe environment that does not include nuisance dogs.

The Dog Control Act requires owners to maintain control over their animals at all times and people found breaching such laws could be fined or sentenced to prison. The law also mandates that all dogs six months and over must be licensed and microchipped. It also

allows for strays to be impounded in a government controlled/owned facility.

Are we to assume that dog owners are ignorant of these regulations? When the stray dog population reaches the point where it is out of control – as it is now — the onus therefore is on the authorities to take control.

A good place to start is by equipping the Dog Control unit with all the manpower and equipment necessary to enforce the laws and get the roaming dogs off the streets.

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