LETTER TO THE EDITOR
While the onset of a global pandemic in March 2020 is the milestone most of us recall, does anyone remember the black dog, hung from a tree until dead, her suffering recorded by the perpetrators and posted on social media as entertainment? Two persons were arrested, charged and brought before the court for animal cruelty offences. Both men were let off the proverbial hook and fined $400 because, I'm told, the revised law that prescribes a $100,000 fine and/or 6 months imprisonment had not been assented to when the crime was committed.
While many animal lovers called for harsher justice, I lamented the punitive approach of which we are so fond, arguing that instead of paying a fine to the State, the funds should be donated to an animal welfare organization, where the guilty parties should volunteer for the same duration as the prison sentence. Since this landmark case, not one person has been held accountable for an offense of cruelty against an animal, although many have been reported, including by the writer.
I will mark an anniversary of my own on the 10th of May, for which justice also remains elusive. A year ago on that day, two straying dogs mauled my cat Toro, in a neighbour’s front yard, mere inches away from ours. I too sought justice for this offense but to date, none is forthcoming. Every time I see an ad for the TTPS app, I cringe. Simply submit the information via the app they said but I had to make the report in person at the station. If you’re not making an anonymous report, the police will come to you, the soothing female voice declares. Not once did a police officer visit my home.
To their credit, my constituency and local government representative did visit, and my husband and I relayed our concerns, not just about the police response but for the lingering threat posed by the dogs, which continued to roam freely. I even proposed a solution to establish an animal control unit in the regional corporation, to effect consistent, community-focused animal control, rescue and adoption while investigating and prosecuting, via municipal police, any contraventions of animal cruelty law. Of course, I was not taken seriously by my representatives nor the relevant government ministers to whom I also wrote to propose the idea.
As with far too many matters in Trinidad and Tobago, you have to ‘know’ someone, preferably high up on the food chain, in order to receive justice. Elected officials and law enforcement remain unaccountable to the citizens they serve and as a result, animals and those who care about them, continue to suffer cruelty and inhumane living, or rather dying, conditions.
On Monday, I will mark Toro’s death by releasing an episode of my podcast Animalia, in the hope that my advocacy via this medium will preserve some hope in our collective humanity and that justice, in the truest sense of the word, will prevail in the end.
2 October 2020
Senator Clarence Rambharat
Ministry of Agriculture, Land & Fisheries
Cor. Narsaloo Ramaya Marg Road and Sogrim Trace
Many thanks for your letter dated 30 June 2020 in which you referred to the Animal (Diseases and Importation) Bill 2019 as “the first step towards addressing” the issues raised in my two-page correspondence to yourself and other national and local government representatives.
Since the Parliament came to a close before the Bill could have been debated in the House of Representatives, I am hoping to engage you in a further discussion about the legislation, as many areas are still unclear, including the assertion that it addresses the issue of stray and feral animals. I am also unclear about another matter regarding the recent disbursement of funds to the TTSPCA. The media report did not distinguish whether the funds represented a subvention or grant, which we both know are different things. I ask because it was one of the points raised in my original correspondence – an annual subvention for the TTSPCA and other organisations that do similarly important work.
Despite the fact that my matter involving my cat has not been resolved neither by the police nor the local government authorities, I channelled my grief and anger into action and started a podcast called Animalia. Now nine episodes in, the 30min weekly podcast aims to build an all-encompassing community around animal welfare issues. I have learned, through my personal trauma and doing the podcast, that there is no cohesive community that advocates with one voice to those in authority. I think one reason for this is the fundamentally inadequate structure in place to treat with animal welfare issues. This is why I recommended an approach that begins at local government level.
I therefore wish to invite you to be a guest on the podcast, whenever you’re available, so we may discuss the aforementioned issues in more depth. I would only need 30-45mins of your time and the interview could be done via phone or online (via Zencastr, a podcasting site). All previous episodes of Animalia are available here (https://www.spreaker.com/show/animalia-the-podcast) if you wish to hear what’s gone before and you may also visit our Facebook and Instagram pages by searching Animalia the Podcast.
I would be honoured to welcome you on the podcast and look forward to hearing from you.
The Honourable Faris Al-Rawi
Ministry of the Attorney General & Legal Affairs
AGLA Tower, Level 21, Government Campus Plaza
Port of Spain
cc. Senator the Honourable Clarence Rambharat, Minister of Agriculture, Land & Fisheries
Senator the Honourable Kazim Hosein, Minister of Rural Development & Local Government
The Honourable Stuart Young, Minister of National Security
Councillor Symon de Nobriga, Chairman, Diego Martin Regional Corporation
Councillor Keeda James, Diego Martin Regional Corporation
Dear Attorney General:
I write as a citizen and member of the Diamond Vale community in search of answers and solutions to the national concern for the care and protection of animals.
My specific matter pertains to two stray dogs which breached my neighbour’s property to attack and kill one of my cats on the morning of 10 May 2020. In the midst of my grief at losing a member of my family, I have made all the relevant reports and complaints to the police, the community street captains, the TTSPCA and the Diego Martin Regional Corporation for immediate assistance to contain or remove the animals, and/or to charge the owner of the animals, as required by the Dog Control Act and Summary Offenses Act.
While I intend to pursue my matter to its conclusion, I am equally concerned about the larger issue that the mechanisms, systems and resources that compel local authorities to act on reports of cruelty or other mistreatment of animals are woefully inadequate, and in the case of Dog Control Units at each Corporation, non-existent. This is what I hope to change.
I have since written to and met with the Councillor Keeda James and Chairman Symon de Nobriga in an attempt to trigger a wider response. My communication was respectfully handled and I await their promised actions to upscale my report to the West End Police Station through the Municipal Police. It is imperative that the police are held accountable for their non-enforcement of the laws regarding straying and/or out of control animals. Otherwise, what’s the point of enhanced legislation? The local government officials also promised to examine how the Corporation can best allocate its resources to provide much needed dog-catching services to its burgesses.
Following up on those actions and discussions and in furtherance of my search for justice and in light of the woeful response to my report at West End, I started an online petition on 22 May to garner support for the matter to be addressed by the Municipal Police attached to the DMRC. The list of supporters (723 to date) and their comments are enclosed (for the Attorney General).
The ordeal and frustrations I have endured since 10 May have compounded my resolve to prompt action on a national level. I will now address the specific gaps that exist, as well as the possible solutions.
The gaps that exist in the national framework for animal welfare must be filled urgently. Legislation is useless without enforcement, regulation and prevention services. Those elected and appointed to positions of authority to manage animal welfare issues must be held accountable to do so. I trust that I will receive confirmation of receipt of this correspondence and updates on any discussions held thereon.
27 May 2020
Councillor Symon de Nobriga
Diego Martin Regional Corporation
17-18 Diego Martin Main Road
cc. Councillor Keeda James
Dear Mr. de Nobriga:
I refer to my correspondence to the CEO on 15 May and a meeting at my home with yourself and Councillor James on 21 May.
Following up on those actions and discussions and in furtherance of my search for justice and in light of the woeful response to my report at West End Police Station, I started an online petition on 22 May to garner support for the matter to be addressed by the Municipal Police attached to the Diego Martin Regional Corporation. The list of supporters (215 to date) and their comments are enclosed (for the Chairman).
I trust that as promised, the petition will be used to upscale my police report through the Inspector with responsibility for the Municipal Police. I eagerly look forward to feedback on this aspect of the matter, as the police must be held accountable for their non-enforcement of the laws regarding straying and/or out of control animals.
Additionally, and in the long term, I would like to contribute to the establishment of an Animal Control Unit in the DMRC to achieve the following:
Although many NGOs, such as the TTSPCA and AWN do provide these services, they do not receive an annual subvention to cover their costs. That is why I am proposing an institutionalised approach to the problem, which will ease the burden on these NGOs while providing services which are accessible to the burgesses.
I will be writing to the Attorney General and Ministers of Agriculture, Local Government and National Security on the matters raised above (and copying the DMRC Chairman), in the hope that the gaps that exist in the national framework for animal welfare are filled. The legislation is useless without enforcement and prevention services. Those elected to positions of authority to close the gaps on animal welfare issues must be held accountable to do so.
15 May 2020
Ms. Petricie Cain
Chief Executive Officer
Diego Martin Regional Corporation
17-18 Diego Martin Main Road
cc. Chairman Symon De Nobriga
Councillor Keeda James
Dear Ms. Cain:
I write as a member of the Diamond Vale community in search of answers and solutions to the national concern for the care and protection of animals.
My specific matter pertains to two stray dogs which breached my neighbour’s property to attack and kill one of my cats on the morning of 10 May 2020. In the midst of my grief at losing a member of my family, I have made all the relevant reports and complaints to the police, the community street captains, the TTSPCA and the DMRC for immediate assistance to contain or remove the animals, and/or to charge the keeper of the animals, as required by the Dog Control Act and Summary Offenses Act.
While I will pursue my matter to its conclusion, I am equally concerned about the larger issue that the mechanisms, systems and resources that compel local authorities to act on reports of cruelty or other mistreatment of animals are woefully inadequate, and in the case of Dog Control Units at each Corporation, non-existent. This is what I hope to change.
As a country, we cannot have gone through a period of awareness about animal welfare (with the recent passage of legislation) without following through to ensure that the laws are upheld. Similarly, we ought not to miss the opportunity, coming out of a global pandemic, to learn the necessary lessons about how to make our country safer for all living creatures. My interactions during the past week with neighbours as well as animal welfare activists and NGOs about my tragic loss has convinced me that now is the time to advance more robust service delivery to the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago, starting with the burgesses of Diego Martin.
I therefore request that the matter is tabled as soon as possible before a monthly sitting of the Council as a matter of urgent importance. I am prepared to contribute however I can to the furtherance of any action the Corporation may take, standing in full support of the elected representative for Diamond Vale to achieve same in her constituency.
Enclosed (for the CEO) are evidentiary and other materials pertaining to my matter as well as excerpts of relevant legislation for your information. I trust that I will receive confirmation of receipt of this correspondence and updates on the tabling of the matter before the Council.
THIS PIECE WAS PUBLISHED IN THE NEWSDAY AND EXPRESS NEWSPAPERS.
Revenge is a purely human trait and while every person concerned about animal welfare wants transgressors to be punished, in my view, it ought not to include prison time. Here's why.
The government has gone to great lengths to convince us, and many who inhabit, work in or visit any prison will agree that our crumbling infrastructure is inadequate to hold and ill-equipped to treat those sentenced to be housed there. Therefore, in the spirit of joined-up thinking and the compassion we crave for all animals, why not make the repercussions for animal cruelty serve the greater good rather than a punitive human urge for vengeance.
I am recommending that the organisations that treat, rescue, care for, board, spay, neuter and educate be the beneficiaries of the justice meted out to perpetrators. Include an annual subvention to these organisations to sustain their tireless, donation-funded work. Instead of a $100,000 fine, why not have the perpetrator contribute part of his/her income to a recognised animal welfare organisation? Instead of a year in prison, how about a yearlong non-custodial community service that mandates weekly hours logged at a recognised animal welfare organisation?
We are all angered, saddened and revolted at the mention of any form of cruelty to animals but our ire should not extend to our fellow human beings, who in my view are capable of change. I am too closely acquainted with the stain of a prison record, impossible to remove, years or even decades after release. A certificate of character that lists an offence against the state is a death knell to future earnings, condemning the holder to a lifetime of scorn and revulsion by society.
I applaud the legislative change to the Summary Offences Act but the legacy of animal welfare activism in Trinidad and Tobago ought not to reinforce the punitive approach to justice of which we are so fond in T&T. It doesn't work and it achieves little in the way of rehabilitation or forgiveness.