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More action is set to be taken in the near future to address animal abuse in Antigua and Barbuda, as the scourge is highlighted during this year’s celebration of World Animal Day.
The annual event, meant to promote animal rights and welfare, brings together people who advocate for improved treatment and care for both, domesticated animals, and those in the wild.
And though much of the ‘developed world’ has made great strides in improving protection for animals, and reprimanding people who abuse them, developing countries like the twin island nation continue to struggle.
There have collectively been dozens of alleged animal cruelty incidents reported in Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, Trinidad and other Caribbean countries over the past two years, and the number of persons found guilty, fined and/or convicted of abuse charges pale in comparison.
That disparity has drawn the ire of pet owners and animal rights activists, who continue to call for stricter animal cruelty laws and greater focus on investigating incidents of abuse.
One such pet owner here in Antigua, Kevin Terry, revealed that while he was travelling abroad, his rescue puppy ‘Hei Hei’ was the recent victim of a horrific attack that has left it badly injured and emotionally scarred.
“I was off island, I came back and the property manager told me that the dog was acting very strange; wouldn’t let anyone get near her. She buried herself in this cave, she was trying to get away from everyone.
“When we finally got her out, we saw that there were some burns or cuts on her head, but then the next day we saw it all over her back as well. The skin on the back and the head were so badly burnt that pieces of flesh were just falling off.
“Someone had [apparently] thrown either acid or boiling water on top of her from above, she’s got third-degree burns on 60 percent of her back. It’s heartbreaking, the dog whimpers all night long, it hurts her to move, she’s constantly trying to lick it [and] she’s just in pain 24 hours a day,” he told Observer, adding that, “for someone to inflict pain on an animal like that, it’s just awful.”
Terry’s story, based on the outcry of many residents across the island, is only one drop in a bucket filled with similar occurrences that are yet to be, and not likely to be resolved.
The Agriculture Ministry – which has state responsibility for animal welfare here – is apparently aware of those issues, and Minister Samantha Marshall has pledged to clamp down on them.
“There are a number of issues of abuse and no one seems to be reporting them, or if they’re reported, they’re not properly investigated. One of our vets, Dr Nneka Hull-James, has returned, and so I will be meeting with her and asking her to manage this situation, so that we can better support communities,” Marshall said.
She also promised more support for the local charities that have long been trying to bridge the gap, but are struggling to fund their efforts.
“We want to be able to ensure that those NGOs that are dealing with abuse of animals, that there is a proper place identified so that if persons no longer want their animals, there’s no need to abuse them or to create any harm to them, it is just to have them go somewhere else. It is a significant investment I will tell you,” she added.
According to Terry, the authorities need to take stricter action sooner rather than later, so that the abusive behaviour doesn’t harm our tourism product.
“We don’t look good in the eyes of tourists when people come from away and they see how badly we treat our animals, [so] I just think we’ve really got to up our game.
“We’re thought of as a high-end tourist destination, [but] until we start treating our animals like a five-star destination would, we may never get there,” he advised.
Meanwhile, prominent veterinarian Dr Radcliffe Robins, says that while he acknowledges the prevalence of animal abuse here in Antigua and Barbuda, he is enamoured with the passion shown by persons to care for and treat animals with respect.
“There are many, many positive ways in which this interaction takes place. Not only as companions to us, teaching children and even ourselves compassion and care, but apart from that, they help us in many other ways – guide dogs for the blind [and] to help us with security. Unfortunately, one aspect of this is animal abuse, and from time to time we hear of these events.
“These events are indeed horrendous, but they are not the common practice. Every day, I am so amazed by the wonderful care, concern and attention that animals receive from the citizens of Antigua and Barbuda.
“Everyday in my practice, I receive joy to see the way in which older folk, young people and children relate to and take care of their animals,” Dr Robins noted.
World Animal Day was first celebrated on March 24, 1925 in Germany, and is celebrated yearly on October 4 to align with the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology and animals.
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