By Francis Quamina Farrier
ONE of the news items in the Sunday Chronicle of February 23, 1986, had the headline, “Council launches campaign against stray animals”. Accompanying the article was a photograph of the then First Citizen of the country’s capital city, Georgetown, Mayor Robroy Whyte. That perennial problem of stray animals roaming the streets of Georgetown has been with Guyanese for a very long time, and it seems to be a problem which is just not going away anytime soon. However, the Stray Catchers Division of the Ministry of Public Security has been on the job with many challenges.
Thirty years ago, when Mayor Robroy Whyte, who was from Agricola, was some years later succeeded by another Mayor from Agricola in the person of Mayor Ranwell Jordon, the Stray Catching Programme was still the responsibility of the Georgetown City Council. That is no longer the case, and the rounding-up of stray animals and their impounding has been the responsibility of the Stray Catchers Department which was brought under the Ministry of Home Affairs, now renamed the Ministry of Public Security.
While I did not write that Chronicle feature article of February 23, 1986 about Mayor Robroy Whyte’s comments regarding stray animals roaming the streets of Georgetown, it is necessary for me to inform you that I have written and produced over a dozen printed articles and television news items about stray animals over the past 15 years. There was the instance when the former Minister of Home Affairs (the late) Ronald Gajraj, was challenged, as it were, by a small herd of cattle. Just one day earlier, the minister had made a strong public statement against stray animals roaming the city streets. At that time the minister was echoing what the city mayor had stated two decades earlier; that animals roaming the streets of Georgetown must stop. At 09:30hrs the very next day, I received a phone call informing me that there were five cows sitting on the parapet on Brickdam in front of the Ministry of Home Affairs, chewing their cuds, and by their very defiant posture, seemed to have been sending a clear message, if you will, to the minister, as to who was the boss in the situation. Arriving at the location, I took video footage of those cows lying on the parapet right in front of the ministry and included it in my “story of the day”. A brief exclusive interview with the minister was included in that television news item, in which Minister Gajraj alluded to the lawless cattle owners. Years later, the lawlessness continues as cattle still roam the streets of Georgetown.
Minister Ronald Gajraj passed away a few months ago but the problem remains. Mayor Robroy Whyte also passed away many years ago, but the problem is still with the city, as well as with most other municipal and rural communities. It is in that Chronicle feature article of February 23, 1986, that Mayor Robroy Whyte had said that, “Last year  meetings were held at which procedures and techniques that should be implemented when taking animals along city streets to their grazing grounds were worked out.” In that report, the mayor also spoke of the growing number of pavement dwellers in the city of Georgetown. As an aside, I would like to inform those who may not know, that Mayor Robroy Whyte was a very talented tap dancer and performed in a number of shows at the City Hall Concert Hall, as well as at the National Cultural Centre in Georgetown. He was also the only Mayor of Georgetown who died while in office.
However, back to the issue at hand: the perennial stray animals in the city of Georgetown and beyond; a problem which has caused quite a number of Guyanese to have been injured and killed in stray animal-related traffic crashes. To the best of my knowledge, no compensation has ever been paid to victims of stray animals by the owners.
In order to have an update of the Stray Catchers Programme by that division of the Ministry of Public Security, I had a very long discussion with the officer-in-charge, who will not be identified by name in this article, for obvious reasons. “Most of the ‘Stray Catcher’ trucks are not in the best of condition,” he told me. “But we are doing our very best under the prevailing circumstances.” The work of a stray catcher is not an easy one and the safety of those workers of the Ministry of Public Security is not always secure. There is also the culture of cattle owners who feel entitled to allow their animals to go and graze wherever they so choose, irrespective of the inconvenience to others. Meanwhile, the stray catchers operation continues.
The related issue of dray carts operating in the city of Georgetown has also been discussed and in my survey, I have discovered that there are those both at home and in the diaspora, who have strong opinions as regards the future of dray carts in Georgetown. Has the time come for animal-drawn vehicles to be with-drawn from operating in the city? That will be the hot topic of an upcoming feature article of mine, here in the Pepperpot Magazine.