I wish that THA stood for “To Help Animals” instead of just meaning Tobago House of Assembly.
This could translate into annual subventions for the few Tobago-based NGOs that help the island’s animals and offer vital services for their well-being (eg rehabilitation, population control, housing, adoption, alleviation of suffering, conservation and more).
At the recent contract signing for the ANR Robinson International Airport Expansion Project, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert declared that the $1.2 billion allocated to the project was “money well spent” – his rationale being that upgrading Tobago’s main point of international entry will help achieve the island’s goal of being a top tourism destination.
Our system is out of balance when over a billion dollars spent on a point of entry is considered "money well spent." Meanwhile there is no annual local government funding directed to organisations that work to ensure ongoing well being and protection of the main resource for which most tourists visit Tobago – animals and nature.
Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan predicts that within 24 months, Tobago’s airport will be the envy of the Caribbean.
What could make Tobago the deserving ‘envy of the Caribbean’—and (let’s dare to dream) the world – within 24 months is not an airport, but the development of and ongoing commitment to exemplary animal/environmental welfare, conservation and rehabilitation programmes and practices.
Many (possibly most) foreign visitors are conscious animal/nature lovers, here to experience Tobago’s unique wildlife and natural beauty. Even 0.1 per cent of $1.2 billion will be "money well spent" when it is invested in improving Tobago’s animal and natural welfare standards – hugely boosting Tobago’s tourism image in the process.
People sometimes call me to help injured sea birds (eg pelicans, laughing gulls, terns). I am no expert on wildlife rehabilitation, but with no access to trained personnel in this area in Tobago, I am learning out of necessity and have successfully rehabilitated and released a few cases (following advice given over the phone mainly by wildlife rehabilitation experts in Trinidad). On occasion, I have had to fly birds with broken wings or limbs to Trinidad since (believe it or not) there is no x-ray machine for animals in Tobago.
Money well spent could furnish Tobago with this vital piece of equipment so that injured animals and their owners/caretakers are not subjected to extra expense – and stress caused by unpredictable air/sea bridge delays, cancellations and unavailable seats – in order to get to Trinidad for x-rays.
With Tobago ranked fifth in the world among top birding destinations per capita (US-based National Audubon Society), it is wise to invest in wildlife rehabilitation equipment and training for interested local vets and others in the field.
At the 2018 British Bird-watching Fair, attended by more than 22,000 people seeking new holiday horizons, the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd promoted Tobago as a premier bird-watching and eco-holiday destination.
When such visitors, enticed by the promise of a spectacular avian paradise, venture into Tobago’s rainforest, they will inevitably also meet some distressing sights.
The verdant location is a popular dumping ground for unwanted dogs. Mangy, skeletal canines, unable to find the long way back "home" are frequently seen languishing at the side of the desolate road. Animal-loving friends living in the environs feed them to keep them alive. Occasionally tourists contact us for help, deeply affected by the animals’suffering.
If not able to personally rescue a dog in the moment, what else can a person do to help?
One commonly known option is to call the TTSPCA Tobago for guidance and assistance. Associated costs (collection of animal: $100-$300 depending on location; relinquishment: $100-$300 per dog, suggested donation) can be a deterrent, especially for locals who, if inclined to help, may not be able or willing to pay anything to assist an animal that is not theirs.
With significant annual THA funding, the TTSPCA Tobago could finally eliminate the need to charge hundreds of dollars to the public for basic services which, if offered free, would encourage and enable more people to rescue animals and clean up the island’s image of suffering.
An excerpt from the noteworthy Oscar 2020 animal-rights-themed acceptance speech delivered by best actor Joaquin Phoenix offers great guidance for the people who pull the purse-strings of our nation: “I think that when we use love and compassion as our guiding principles, we can create, develop and implement systems of change that are beneficial to all sentient beings – and to the environment.”