Tobago urgently needs higher animal-welfare standards

Tobago urgently needs higher animal-welfare standards


One of the two emaciated dogs which were dumped at Buccoo Bay, in Tobago. – ELSPETH DUNCAN

On Wednesday, I got a call from Healing with Horses informing me that three young, skittish dogs had been dumped on Buccoo Bay.

I contacted a friend who lives in the village and asked if she could check on the dogs, give them food and water and send photos and videos so I could post them on the Venus Doggess Of Love animal rescue page – in the hope that someone would offer to foster the dogs while we seek good homes for them.

The photos and videos sent to me showed three white dogs, about six months old – graceful, elegant, but skeletal, with ribs and hip bones protruding. The dogs were all female – possibly the reason they were dumped. In many cases, the act of dumping female dogs is considered “easier” and “cheaper” (free) than the humane and advisable (albeit, unfortunately costly) approach – having them spayed to prevent unwanted pregnancies. (We need government-funded spay/neuter clinics).

The next morning, I went to Buccoo Bay with food and water for the dogs, and my camera, to get good photos of them. They are so traumatised it will take a while to gain their trust, so that they can be secured.

A man at the beach, somehow knowing that I was coming to see the dogs, called out to me: “Only two left! One of them dead. Someone killed it. Maybe it got bounced. It was dead in the drain.”

The drain of which he spoke cuts across the sandy path running through the grove of manchineel trees. Assuming that the dog had been killed by a vehicle, one must ask – why was someone driving on that pathway at a speed capable of killing an animal and knocking it into a drain? Why are cars allowed on that beach at all?

A sign at the location clearly states: “You are on a sea turtle nesting beach.” It then lists things not allowed on the beach – one of those things being vehicles.

“Someone saw a black car driving in here yesterday,” the man continued. “Two big white women got out, dumped the dogs, then drove off.”

Unfortunately, the witness did not think of recording the number plate or videotaping the act – the criminal act, might I add. The Animal (Diseases and Importation) (Amendment) Act, 2020 states that anyone who “cruelly beats, ill-treats, starves, over-drives, overrides, overloads, abuses, tortures or otherwise maltreats any animal” is liable to be fined. The act sets fines of up to $200,000.

Actions that would warrant such fines are not uncommon; being largely unchecked by law enforcement, they proliferate – to the detriment of the island’s environmental wellbeing and image in the eyes of those who expect high environmental welfare standards.

On Wednesday, one Trinidadian visitor wrote to me: “I went to Tobago on Carnival weekend and saw so many strays. I was with a group and we were on the move in a maxi for the entire trip. I felt so helpless as I can’t do anything but offer some of my food while I am there.

“While at Parlatuvier beach I saw a brown dog and one black and brown pup. I don’t know if she had more but the mum and pup followed us to the waterfall and stayed with us. The pup was so thin. We gave what little food we had.

“I am back over a week and can’t stop thinking about those two. I do hope things improve for dogs in Tobago as they are treated so shabbily.”

Many local and international visitors to the island call or write to me to report or complain about maltreatment of animals.

I probably sound like a stuck record as I repeat, at every chance I get, how important it is to establish and maintain high animal-welfare standards as a major pillar of tourism if Tobago is ever to have any real success in that area.

I am thankful that Alpha Lorde, an animal lover who has supported important and exemplary animal welfare initiatives, is the newly-elected president of the THTI (Tobago Hotel and Tourism Association). He has very rightly stated that Tobago has more to offer than sea, sun and sand and would do well to focus on the niche markets of eco-adventure, birdwatching, diving and other natural offerings.

For that approach to succeed, all animals on this island (dogs and cats included) must fall under that “eco-tourism” umbrella and be supported by the highest animal-welfare standards possible.

Tobago urgently needs higher animal-welfare standards

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