Guam is now down to only one animal control officer to deal with some 25,000 to 60,000 stray dogs in 19 villages.

This development also came at a time when the U.S. Department of the Interior rejected a proposal to use an invasive species grant to fund a $200,000-plus stray dog control program.

"We're at a standstill," Yigo Mayor Rudy Matanane said of Guam's decadeslong problem of controlling the stray dog population.

The Guam Department of Agriculture was supposed to roll out its stray dog control plan around August, using about $201,490 in Interior grant funds for two years.

It would have helped buy tranquilizer poles, humane traps, microchip readers, pet tag engravers and additional kennels at the Guam Animals In Need facility, among other things.

Interior's rejection of the funding source compounds mayors' challenges in dealing with the stray dog population.

The COVID-19 pandemic, the retirement of two animal control officers and the Legislature's inability to pass animal-control-related bills have caused mayors to be more worried.

On Tuesday, Guam Agriculture Deputy Director Adrian Cruz confirmed that Interior "did not opt to fund it, although according to (Interior) staff, it rated high."

Cruz said the Guam Department of Agriculture will reapply for the grant in the new funding cycle, but will tweak that application in light of COVID-19 pandemic realities.

Mayors are the first ones to get calls from villagers about stray dogs harassing or terrorizing children walking to and from bus stops, or biting and chasing after neighbors, joggers and bicyclists.

Nicholas V. Ibanez, now the only animal control officer with Guam Agriculture, met recently with mayors to update them about the lack of animal control officers while also encouraging them to work with the department in addressing the stray dog problem.

"I remember when I was a kid, I can run around the whole village and not getting chased by a dog. Now, you can't even go to a bus stop (without getting chased by a dog)," Ibanez told mayors.

Mongmong-Toto-Maite Mayor Rudy Paco reminded everyone that mayors get criticized for trying to control the stray dog population.

Whatever mayors try to do to help control the stray dogs, they're criticized for being "inhumane to the stray dogs," Paco said.

He said critiques include how dog traps must be designed, or how the dogs must be kept after they were caught.

"So maybe we put steak and lobster also for the dog to eat so it won't be inhumane," Paco said.

Spaying and neutering, according to animal welfare advocates, remain as Guam's best and longest lasting solution but the lack of funding for it has gone on for years.

Cruz said the local agriculture department is being creative with the resources it has and is working on a refined process with Guam Animals In Need.

He said the department has secured a couple of new vehicles for animal control use, and it is still working with the Legislature on a volunteer program.

Cruz said Agriculture is also working to hire new animal control officers.

"We already have (a government hiring document) in process for open announcement plus our (administrative assistant) is initiating new GG1s to fill the two spots opened by the retirement of our two officers," Cruz said.

Guam law requires pet dogs be put on leash or behind fences so they don't harm people or destroy others' property.

The annual pet licensing fee of $5 has also been in the books for years, but the law hasn't been fully enforced.

Under current law, a penalty of $1 per month is assessed for late renewal of a license, which also lacks enforcement.

Agriculture has been trying to beef up the enforcement, and also asked the Legislature to pass bills including one that seeks to require each licensed dog to be implanted with a pet identifier microchip by a licensed veterinarian.

The department also has been asking senators to pass a bill that seeks to increase the annual license fee from $5 to $20 and the penalty fee to $15 a month, all to help sustain the dog control program.

Of the 19 mayors, only Piti Mayor Jesse Alig has issued a citation so far to a pet owner who allowed his dogs to roam freely and harass and bite passersby. The court ruled in the mayor's favor.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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