We don't need statistics to see the extent of Guam's pesky problem with stray dogs.
Stray dogs are nearly everywhere on Guam, and most exist in packs. In villages, they go after walkers and schoolchildren who have to fend for themselves.
“Children are susceptible to attacks that are very severe,” Dr. Tom Poole, the territorial veterinarian at the Guam Department of Agriculture, said last week as he called for passage of legislation that would require mandatory neutering of female dogs.
The stray dog population remains unabated, and the sheer number of dogs and their visibility show the strays have become emboldened to loiter in some of the busiest public places; they no longer confine themselves to mostly boonie areas, and that's a major public health and safety concern.
Along hotel row in Tumon Bay, packs of stray dogs have been seen along the main strip, Pale San Vitores Road. Some of these dogs are covered in mange and hang out next to some of the hotels with "resort" attached to their names. All it takes is one headline – that a dog has viciously attacked someone in Tumon Bay – and there go many of the efforts to make Guam look good to international travelers.
The greater worry, though, is the public safety and health of our residents.
Outside of stores, residences, student bus stops and commercial buildings, stray dogs congregate – no longer showing any fear of being spotted by humans.
In the discussion last week about the proposed requirement for neutering female dogs, it was brought up that if rabies is introduced into Guam's dog population, we'd be in for a really serious health scare.
Various health concerns were sounded out many years ago, including at a legislative hearing in 2010. In that legislative hearing, a local veterinarian, Lisa Silk, said, "These animals are carrying and spreading diseases such as giardia, coccidia, hookworms, tick disease, mange ... all of which are potentially contagious to humans. ... Not to mention the diseases that are contagious to other animals such as (parvovirus) and heartworms."
These were concerns then and are even more so now, with our stray dog population estimated to number as many as 60,000. The annual stray roundup catches only about 1,000 – that's less than 2% of the total estimated stray dog population.
This is an issue that lawmakers and executive branch officials should be prioritizing as part of their promises to make public health and safety among the top three priorities alongside education.
But clearly, solutions and providing resources to solve this problem have not been adequate.
Poole and Yigo Mayor Rudy Matanane, Stray Dog Committee chairman, are appealing for legislation that would require the neutering of female dogs. Matanane estimated that about once a month, a stray dog bites someone in his village, which has a population of about 20,000 people.
The inadequately staffed Guam Department of Agriculture also should get additional funding and manpower to round up strays in tandem with a stepped-up stray dog neutering campaign. Poole's office isn't only understaffed – it doesn't even have a government-issued phone to handle calls.
The problem needs to be prioritized by those who make the top-level decisions on funding and hiring staff to beef up the resources at the local agriculture department. The solution rests ultimately in the governor's and senators' hands.
Efforts to curb the problem have not been given adequate resources for years and years.
On Jan. 10, 2010, Silk wrote, according to legislative records, "I am sorry to say, but watching this play out in the streets of Guam makes this island look like a Third World country, and the saddest part of it all is that is preventable and fixable, but no one is doing a thing to stop it."
It's nearly decade-old legislative testimony, and those words still ring true today.