Glenn Tucker | Understand dogs rather than put them to sleep
Many years ago, I was travelling along NW 8th St in Plantation, Florida. I was trying to find the cemetery where my late aunt was to be buried. Suddenly, I spotted this well-laid-out cemetery. It was beautiful. I decided to enter. I was admiring everything for almost a minute before I realised that I was in the Pet Angel Memorial Center – a cemetery for pets.
Last year, it is estimated that Americans spent $7 billion on marijuana, $32 billion on pizzas, and a staggering $70 billion on pets. When we think of America, we envisage crowds of busy people rushing to and from a host of activities. In January of this year, however, Cigna Insurance published a report that stated that 61 per cent of Americans reported feeling lonely, poorly understood, and lacking companionship. In our own country, those of us who know what to look for will attest to the fact that in the busiest of places, crowded homes even, loneliness is frequently observed.
Dogs provide companionship. Many of us crave unconditional interaction with another living being. In many cases, dogs successfully decrease these levels of human loneliness and give us a sense of purpose as we care for them. Golden and Labrador Retrievers as well as the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are said to be excellent for therapeutic purposes as well as assisting physically disadvantaged people experiencing challenges making their way in the world.
I had known long ago of a dog’s superior olfactory capabilities, but when I learned, last year, that police cadaver dogs in the US were able to locate the bodies of three teenagers who were murdered and buried six and a half feet deep, I was still amazed. Speaking for myself, whenever the matter of dogs is mentioned, I am quick to report that although all the houses on the street where I live have electronic security, the only ones that have never been robbed are the ones that have dogs.
For the majority of my fellow Jamaicans, dogs are just some lower animals to whom we throw unwanted scraps from the table for their food and just kick around when they are in our way. We lack the ability to recognise their desire for companionship and a blinkered wish to be loyal. They are not trained, they are never treated for anything. So since most of their illnesses cannot be transmitted to humans, we can safely neglect them. This is in stark contrast to the small percentage of Jamaicans who value their dogs, love them sufficiently to educate themselves about them, and invest in their health and well-being. I have never seen one of the dogs residing on my road roaming the streets.
DOGS NEED YOUR TIME
It is the former group that constitutes the “dog problem” we are currently experiencing in Jamaica. Whenever someone is mauled by a dog, hasty, poorly thought-out solutions are circulated, many of them coming from persons who should know better. The unvarnished truth is that many dog owners should never be dog owners. They do not have the resources to take care of a dog. It’s not just money. The dog needs some of your time. A Rottweiler, left alone in a house, who thinks he has been abandoned, can cause extensive damage.
There is a fair amount of “backyard breeding” of dogs. The objective of some is to produce fighting dogs. To guarantee success, increasing doses of cruelty is visited on these dogs on a daily basis to maximise their capacity for viciousness. These dogs will maul anything that moves. Is dog fighting legal? These dogs are sometimes kept in backyards on premises that are not secure. A dog that is experiencing fear or pain will attack children of all ages. “Jogging” is not in a dog’s vocabulary. “Fleeing” is what it understands. And that needs to be investigated.
According to Wikipedia, studies have shown that dogs display many behaviours associated with intelligence. They have advanced memory skills and are able to read and react appropriately to human body language like gesturing and pointing as well as voice commands. They have been used in studies of cognition - perception, awareness, memory, and learning.
The human brain has a larger visual cortex than dogs, but a dog’s brain has an olfactory cortex that is 40 times larger than that of a human. Every smell is different for a dog, and each smell has a story behind it. They contain another special olfactory system above the roof of the mouth called the vomeronasal organ, which helps dogs sense things that they cannot see such as human emotions like sadness. Combined, this enables dogs to smell up to 10,000 times better than humans and also remember all the different smells they have sensed throughout their lives.
When British soldiers witnessed the devastation being caused by a continuous hail of bullets punctuated by a barrage of bombs from the Nazis, they ‘pick up dem foot in dem han and run’. But not Rex. Rex, the hero sniffer dog of World War 11, ignored the devastation around him and quietly and meticulously crept through the Reichwald Forest, sniffing out the wooden mines laid by retreating Nazis. Rex’s heroics saved the lives of hundreds of British soldiers during Operation Veritable in March of 1945, allowing the Allies to march through Germany and defeat Adolph Hitler’s Nazis. He was even entrusted with the life of Prime Minister Winston Churchill by being given the task of making sure the forest was clear of mines before Churchill visited. At the end of the war, Rex was recommended for an RSPCA valour medal. This was turned down by the War Office when it was discovered that Rex was a stray. The indifference and lack of appreciation for the loyalty and courage of dogs did not begin with us.
In Stony Hill, it only requires a promise of rain for a power outage, and everything electrical ceases to function. A few years ago, a resident secured the services of a security company to protect their home, including three cars, while they holidayed abroad. The young “guard” was all over Stony Hill trying to get help to steal the three cars. It may sound ancient, but the only reliable way of securing person and property is with the use of dogs. But they must be trained and restrained. Dogs are not just for the upper St Andrew crowd. The humble man whose door can easily be kicked in by those who would do harm to his family deserves a dog too.
One thing I know for sure, this government cannot accommodate any more requests for funds. But a way has to be found to educate the population about the do’s and don’ts about dog ownership and how to behave around them. A dog who befriends everyone who opens a sardine can is not likely to be helpful. What about starting in schools?
Killing untrained dogs for attacking humans they see as suspicious is myopic. Oh! How up-to-date are our laws protecting dogs?
Glenn Tucker, is an educator and a sociologist. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org