When I was growing up, no one in the village kept their dogs indoors. They were tied up outside next to a dog house, or on a porch pillar so they could escape the sun and rain. We didn’t feed them dog food that you bought at the store. We fed them leftovers that consisted of all kinds of bones - fish bones, chicken bones, pork and beef bones. And cold donuts, probably with chocolate frosting. All things you’re not supposed to feed dogs.
Neither did they go to the vet. Dog doctors were simply not part of the picture, or budget. In fact, no one ever actually purchased a dog, no one we knew, at least. Back then, dogs on a tropical island were animals in the yard that someone gave you. And veterinarians were people only military families used for the dogs they brought with them from overseas.
In my neighborhood, dogs didn’t have fancy names. They were Blackie, Girl, Boy, Brownie and Prince. When they died, they died. They’d get buried in a hole in the red dirt. I don’t recall that we ever mourned losing them.
I guess another way to say this is that Guam was no place for any dog to be. The environment and way of life was much too hostile to the furry animals. The poor things found themselves stranded, literally, on an island.
Of course, no dog of mine since leaving in 1984 has lived in anything resembling the bleakness I have just described. Our dogs are indoor family members with two first names that only insufferable dog-parents would give them: Ada Marjolaine, Beatrice Daphne, Clementine Truffle, and Frances Margaret. No one gave them to us, in fact, some have ridden airplanes to get to us from breeders.They eat fancy, heavily considered diets, play with pricey toys, and go regularly to the vet clinic where they get procedures such as ultrasounds. In fact, as I type this, our latest dog-child, Poppy Choupette, is recovering from laser surgery. She was spayed. She is at home in her crate resting on freshly washed fleece blankets.
I’m not sure exactly how I magically became a proper dog owner, having grown up in a place and during a time when no such good ownership training was available. Nonetheless, I did become a great dog-daddy, which is why I, like many of you, am horrifed that there are so many homeless dogs on the island. I don’t have any real solutions to the problem, but I do have a theory why these poor animals wander aimless and hungry in unacceptble numbers.
Here’s the thing: Any dog over 10 pounds is too much dog for a tropical island. There’s a reason why the Mexican dog is a chihuahua. Its diminutive size works well in Mexico’s warm climate. You never see a chihuahua chained to a tree in Mexico. They live indoors where man’s best amigos should be.
But for many unfortunate reasons, large dogs with the wrong coats and temperaments arrived on the island. These dogs were bred and have the instincts to work - to herd, to hunt, to pull sleds. They arrived without having these things to do and so they became restless and undesirable. The reality of having a working dog in the humidity and heat leads to disinterest in them and they are simpy forgotten or discarded.
Islands in the Pacific are no places for Rottweilers and German shepherds, huskies or retreivers – never mind pit bulls. I bet if you analyzed the standard stray in Guam, or any other island, there’d be a measure of two, if not more, of these breeds in it.
While the stray problem will take a lot of effort and care to fix, islanders can do more than just spaying and neutering to prevent a future issue, and it is to ban the importation of large dogs. Now I can hear all the people at customs and immigration screaming, “But we need narcotics sniffers!”
You know what? You can train small dogs to do any job a big dog can.
But if we can’t get past “needing” German shepherds, then bring them in spayed or neutered - no ifs and or buts. Also, military families shouldn’t be allowed to bring unfixed big dogs into the island, either.
If this all sounds too extreme, then think about regulations many apartment buildings and housing associations have that either ban animals outright or impose strict size limits. No one is calling these landlords and property management companies out for being malicious or wrong. They’re simply enforcing an obvious policy, that the space informs the size of animal that can be humanely kept. They’re being smart.
Dan Ho, a native of Agat, is a writer and teacher and holds a Ph.D. in indigenous studies. Follow his garden adventures on Instagram @HoandGarden.