St. John’s Antigua- A few weeks ago, one of our members had a close encounter with a herd of four-footed animals, followed by an even closer one with the two-legged beast trailing them. She reported that she’d had to come to an abrupt stop when, a mere 10 feet ahead, a massive cow burst out of the bush and sauntered across the Pares Village Main Road. Behind it was another of even greater girth, then several others, and, finally, bringing up the rear, the owner or minder of these bovine threats to human safety.
She decided, as civilised humans do, to ask the man why he had driven the animals across the highway, and whether it would not have been more prudent for him to come onto the roadway first and signal us, drivers, to stop.
The man looked at her in scornful amazement and asked if she expected him to keep up with the animals. Then he went on to quiz her as to how fast she had been driving, noting that if she had been going slowly, she would have had time to brake. When she remonstrated with him that, without warning, any driver, regardless of speed, could have hit the cows, hurt himself, and damaged his vehicle, the livestock farmer pronounced the woman “crazy.” At that point, she reported, she wished, fervently, that the man had, indeed, encountered a crazy person … and an armed crazy person at that.
Our sister was more than peeved, she said, because, the preceding weekend, while driving along the Marble Hill Road in pelting rain, she had been “lucky to make out a glint” in the darkness. Taking the chance of offending oncoming drivers, she had flipped her high beams – and thus was able to count six, seven, eight shiny-wet horses tethered along the roadside… .
We are certain that almost every reader can relate a similar story: of being alerted to the presence of a black cow only by the reflection of its eyes (and, in the absence of moonlight, literally thanking your lucky stars); or of proceeding with caution, say, on the road around the SVRG stadium, only to have a silly sheep commit suicide under your wheels, anyway; or of having an indecisive dog change its mind, midway across, and double back to collide with your bumper, harmlessly, you think, before you discover your weeping radiator. And who has not returned to his/her home to find the premises littered with torn plastic bags leaking every disgusting thing from chicken skin to soiled Pampers after stray dogs have gotten into the garbage ahead of CBH?
The point of relating these incidents is to ask the question, “Where is Noah in all this?” For the purpose of this column, we are referring to the authorities – including the Ministry of Agriculture’s Livestock Division and the Police – as the collective Noah, the keeper and controller of the animals.
In recent times, the nation has been moved by tales and photos of animals slaughtered, either out of frustration, as in the sheep-poisoning near Lyon Hill, or as the result of wanton theft and naked greed. Our hearts went out to the farmers who took to the airwaves to detail their losses and appeal to Noah to lend them a hand. But whose heart bleeds for the poor drivers subjected to the wanton negligence of animal owners? Who counts the loss of time, money, confidence, health, and even life for the human victims? No one, apparently; not even Noah, resting indifferently in his now-empty ark… .
Antigua & Barbuda, at times, seems to be home to more straying animals than to the 86,000 people who call it home (or home-away-from-home). We know there are laws on the books regarding the licensing and micro-chipping of dogs and restrictions on how many domestic animals one can have; regulations for the tagging of livestock and the stamping of legitimately slaughtered meat; and even provisions for local donkeys to travel overseas with their veterinary caregivers, so that they don’t have to face the privation of eating homegrown grass.
Supposedly, all these rules have as their objective the ultimate care and protection of human life. So why is it that the animals continue to enjoy free rein – in the literal sense of the word – while we, the people, appear to have no rights at all, not even self-defense?
Noah would be on us like a shot if a fed-up driver were not to maneuver his SUV away from the dozen lambs gamboling on the Sir Sidney Walling Highway as if it were the verdant pastures of Sussex. Noah would descend on us like a ton of bricks if we steered our pick-up trucks among that herd of goats on Sir George Walter Highway and tossed a couple of fat carcasses in the back for our Whit Monday picnic. And Noah would call out Marshall Matt Dillon and Deputy Festus if we pretended we were in a Wild West movie and aimed our six-shooters at the string of homeless ponies meandering across Fort Road.
We have a feeling that Noah and all the current inhabitants of the ark are just “waiting for something serious to happen” before they do anything about these ownerless animals on the roads. And, naturally, this serious event will have to involve one of their own – or, God forbid, even more important persons, like a busload of tourists – for there to be action taken. But, even then, we are certain that it will be a knee-jerk reaction: nine days of vigilance and nine nights of having the animal patrols out at the time they are actually needed, and then Noah will subside, again, into his slumberous state, while we, the people who actually live here, go back to driving at our own risk.
We therefore implore Noah, while he is mulling the idea of making laws to prevent humans from driving and texting, to advise all drivers to have a mechanic and a tow truck on speed dial, just in case… .