Opinion: Problem dogs on Saba

Dear editor,

I have been reading about the goat problem being an important issue for Saba, for their effects on nature and on safety. They look cute and don’t harm people directly but still they are described as a nuisance, a cause of problems, a frequent subject for discussion and everyone has an opinion.

What I haven’t heard since I arrived on Saba in April, is a discussion about the dog problems we have on the Island.

Two large dogs attacked me last Friday, early in the morning while I was walking my dog. They had escaped their enclosure and went for my dog and for me. People passing in cars stopped, but didn’t get out of their cars except for a man with an umbrella, who called out to awaken the owners. I was very lucky to be able to finally fight the dogs off myself with the end of the dog lead and went home. My dog had to be treated by the vet for a dozen punctures and wounds and he limps but he will heal. Luckily I was not bitten but the incident has had a large impact on me with nightmares, sleeplessness and now, 3 days later, I still feel unsafe as the dogs live close by and I can hear them barking every time someone passes that house.

Since this encounter people have told me about other incidents with the dogs that attacked me. However, it is worrying that people now warn me not to walk the street behind my house as well, because there is a dog on a flat roof that attacked their dog and can jump down on the street.  Other people talk about a different dog in the area that attacked a small dog and that regularly breaks parts of its enclosure down, and I am even more alarmed hearing stories about adults and a child being attacked. Whether all true or not, it is clear to me that I am not the only one feeling unsafe where it concerns dogs and it explains why people were afraid to get out of their cars to help me.

Isn’t that strange? We dare not walk freely on this wonderful island or get out of our cars because of someone’s pet? How could this happen in such  a small community as ours?

Looking around on Saba I now see how some dogs have to live and it makes me sad: small outside areas, sometimes no shade or shelter, lots of poo, chained, nothing to play with, no room to run around. I don’t see many people walk their dogs either. So, do their life circumstances make these dogs unreliable or even dangerous? Or is it their descent? Or how their start was in life or how they are raised? I am being told that many of the dogs here are rescued and adopted from St Maarten to become someone’s pet! Could such good intentions have resulted in danger for others?

I am no dog expert, but I do know that the experiences and training in the first few months are very important for every puppy, as this will determine their responses later in life. I also know that attention and training is important for their social development and their ability to live in harmony with people and other animals.

Surely, I do not have the solution for problem-dogs on Saba, but I have a few suggestions.

First, adopting any puppy, and even more important in case of a rescued dog, should be followed by training for dog and owner. I was very happy to read today that there will be a dog trainer on the island until September but it would be great if we could find a local dog trainer who can give regular sessions throughout the year.

Second, people need to think twice before they adopt or buy any dog! They are very cute when they are small but do you have enough time and energy to raise it, to play with it, to walk it, to train it and enough room to house it? A dog ‘lasts’ more than 10 years!

Third, people need to report incidents and dog attacks to the council and the police, because one incident is often not enough to get rid of a dangerous dog.

I hope I will soon feel safe enough to walk Saba’s streets again and I hope you will too!

Name withheld on request

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