Monday, January 23, 2012

Rats, dogs and kangaroos (culling pests)

Killing kangaroos is not generally popular in Australia, even for the soundest of economic reasons. Out on the sheep and cattle stations (ranches) they eat the grass that would otherwise be available for the income-producing animals. In the towns, they die for the lack of grass, or they wander into the streets and get hit by vehicles. The State governments license special shooters to keep the numbers down.

Dingoes and rabbits are also on the killing-list. Shooting rabbits failed to kill enough of them, so they were pretty much exterminated by deliberate infection. Dingoes were mostly shot. When I was very young, the sheep-farmers organised “dingo drives”, on horseback with Enfield rifles. A far cry from “The Man from Snowy River”, but the exercises were effective enough; dingoes became extinct in our area. The sheep were safe, and the graziers’ incomes were safe. In between drives, poison-traps in paddocks accounted for strays. Unfortunately, my own personal dog (not a pet, just a friend) died after eating strychnine in one of the traps. Well, what can you do? A boy didn’t deserve a dog if he couldn’t take care of it.

Canada licenses the killing of baby seals, Japan of dolphins. On the South Pacific island we lived on in the early ‘70s, the Vietnamese immigrants killed cats, and cooked them into nems for sale in their shops. (Nems were a tasty snack halfway between a meatball and a spring roll.) Whenever a pet cat went missing, its owners swore off nems for a week or two until the memory faded.

Cayman allows the culling of parrots, and turns a blind eye in respect of agoutis and “expat” iguanas. But not sharks, and not dogs, although dogs are culled by the Humane Society when they become too much of a pest. Sometimes private individuals take matters into their own hands, when neighbours’ yard-dogs’ persistent barking gets too intrusive. The Compass and the Humane agonise over private action like that, but offer no practical alternative.

There is no doubt that undisciplined yard-dogs, like rats and green iguanas, should be killed as public nuisances, when they become an obstacle to people’s “quiet enjoyment”. Yard-dogs are not pets, of course. Pets are members of families; they live mostly indoors, subject to family rules that are compatible with peace and quiet for all. Dogs whose lives are spent in a yard – even an enclosed yard – are not pets. Backyard-dogs belong in communities where quiet enjoyment and privacy are not valued, and where loudness is a way of life, and where the neighbours’ comfort is of no account.

Cayman’s society is a broad church. Half its population doesn’t mind living in a state of rowdiness and absence of privacy; the other half much prefers to live more gently and quietly. The first half tolerates yard-dogs barking day and night, the second half hates it. We all have our prejudices. I myself belong to the second half, and am dismayed whenever my neighbourhood seems in danger of degenerating into a kind of Dog City South. Most of my readers probably share that prejudice. The dog-owners among them are, I’m sure, responsible enough to keep their pets in the house and under control.

Ah well, I yell ferociously at backyard-dogs when their noise intrudes too much on my peace and privacy, especially very early in the morning. Ferocious yelling is pretty low-class too, I guess, but it’s all I’ve got. I don’t approve of feeding Paraquat sandwiches to backyard dogs who are allowed to bark all day and night, but I understand the temptation.