My drawing today is of a live dog that actually looked that skeletal – too weak to stand or move much more than her greenish-brown eyes, which expressed deep exhaustion whenever she raised them to look at us. Now and then one of her hind legs would twitch in response to a fly landing on her flea-infested fur. The dog had no fat, little muscle, and barely any blood – her gums were almost the colour of her teeth.
This dog was not a stray found at the roadside. She had owners who saw her daily.
Why was she allowed to get to that skeletal state?
Someone brought her to us (at the owner’s request) at the recent spay/neuter clinic organised by Venus Doggess of Love (animal rescue/welfare NGO) and held at Mt Irvine Bay Resort. Upon seeing her, veterinarian Dr Deonanan, from Trinidad, suggested that the humane thing would be to euthanise her.
However, after some discussion and observation, we all agreed to give her a chance. As if responding to this opportunity, she mustered the strength to stand, albeit briefly, drank water and ate the dinner of tinned cat meat we had left for her in her overnight crate.
Hope for her survival increased when a very caring, animal-loving friend from England, who was vacationing in Tobago, agreed to take her in and devote time to giving her much-needed love, care and the prescribed medication.
Upon seeing the dog in person for the first time, my friend burst into tears – with the unexpected suddenness of an exploding firework. She turned away, then turned back in what felt to me like a daring attempt to look again. She blocked her eyes – not wanting to see...then blocked her mouth, as though to stifle a scream that could not find its way out from the depths of her horror.
That night, my friend stayed awake, observing Elsie (as she had renamed her) and spending quality time with her. Perhaps bolstered by hope, the trusting dog showed signs of improvement – eyes fuller of life, head raising, standing to drink water. At one point, clearly feeling the love shown, Elsie (who was lying on fleece blankets on the couch) moved herself across to lay her head on her foster’s lap. There she stayed, relishing the gentleness of the hand stroking her head in an expression of love that she had probably never known.
Early the next morning, I received a distressed call from my friend.
"We need to rush Elsie to a vet," she said.
Despite having shown great promise in the night, the dog had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.
I arrived in time to see Elsie’s ribcage swell with a massive intake of breath. A faint, almost imperceptible heartbeat pulsed under cold skin. Her body arched and mouth opened to release two final gasps.
Her body was buried in the grassy expanse near the back gate of her foster’s villa. Freshly picked flowers adorned the spot.
“She stayed alive long enough to experience love,” one friend said.
Elsie’s photo (upon which my drawing is based) was shown to several people, police officers included. None of the respondents showed much, if any, visual or emotional response. When asked what they thought of the state of the animal, answers included:
“It must be hungry...” “The owners did not care for it....”
One respondent said: “It don’t look too far from what my dog looks like.”
Another considered such emaciation “normal” and “our culture.”
The Animal (Diseases and Importation) Amendment Act, 2020, a 66-page document, is the most current legislation on animal welfare in TT. In this document, one can find reference to the following offence and its related fine: 18. A (1) Any person who cruelly beats, ill treats, starves, overloads, abuses, tortures, neglects or otherwise maltreats any animal commits an offence. The fine is "$200,000 and imprisonment for a term of five years on summary conviction."
In TT, the laws against animal cruelty remain unenforced – whether for cases as "normal" as a dog starved to a skeletal state, or as heinous as the brutal killing of animals, even when accompanied by graphic video evidence.
This begs the question:
Which is worse – the countless suffering animals with emaciated or tortured bodies...or the people of our nation who do not feel or do anything for them?