January 29, 2022

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On Tiny Guam, It’s One Dogcatcher vs. 30,000 Strays

On Tiny Guam, It’s One Dogcatcher vs. 30,000 Strays

MANGILAO, Guam — Driving alone in his truck, Nicholas Ibanez prowls the tiny American island of Guam in uniform, carrying a most-wanted listing of harmful predators that should be taken off the streets.

He begins early, earlier than 8 a.m. — up and out with espresso in hand. Currently, he additionally emerges after darkish, to keep away from the vigilantes who would impede his work. On the highway, he scans the sting of forests for shady patches to set his traps. In a field sits his bait: bits of rooster from an area Jamaican restaurant, a strip from KFC, possibly a Vienna sausage.

Mr. Ibanez, 41, is the Guam authorities’s solely dogcatcher. And irrespective of what number of hours he works, irrespective of how elusive he’s on the animal management workplace, he faces an inescapable actuality: On this island, there’s only one Nicholas Ibanez, and at the very least 30,000 stray canines.

“There’s means too many points and animals — there’s at all times one thing ready,” mentioned Mr. Ibanez, who has held the job for greater than 5 years. “It may be harmful. I’ve by no means been bitten, and I don’t wish to get bit.”

Throughout Guam, which is dwelling to about 170,000 individuals, packs of those “boonie canines,” as they’re recognized, may be seen in every single place — crossing highways and chasing vehicles, roving the parking a number of luxurious accommodations, lounging in cul-de-sacs fringed with coconut timber.

On social media, residents incessantly submit tales and photographs of harmful encounters, like one which left a tuxedo cat with bloodied eyes and a hoop of crimson round its neck, and one other during which a feral stray climbed three tales of an condominium constructing to assault a pet.

Within the animal management workplace, Mr. Ibanez regarded by means of photographs of pet canines with bloodied legs and one which confirmed a stray baring its tooth at a toddler as she stood on her doorstep.

“I can say like 80 % are vicious,” he mentioned. “We get hospital studies about stray canines biting youngsters, even aged individuals.”

“Again within the day,” he continued, “I used to have the ability to stroll to the bus cease with out getting chased.”

The island has struggled with stray canines for many years. In 1967, throughout a rabies outbreak, the American army tried to shoot the strays. However the canines proved so good and elusive that the authorities ultimately resorted to planting poison, mentioned Cyrus Luhr, president of the board of administrators at Guam Animals in Want, an animal shelter.

Now, Guam, which covers about 200 sq. miles, has about one stray canine for each six residents — a ratio that appears to some like a pile of dynamite.

“Rabies is a really actual risk to us,” mentioned Alison Hadley, government director of the shelter, which is the one one on the island that receives authorities funding. “We’ve boats that are available from different locations on this planet, and there have been very actual rabies scares. There are simply so many prospects.”

This summer time, a video that went viral obtained the entire island speaking about the issue with strays — and infected passions over what to do.

The video confirmed a pack of about 50 giant canines flocking to an deserted constructing close to the airport. It caught the eye of the island’s mayors, animal rights teams and anxious dad and mom, catapulting the difficulty onto entrance pages and fueling heated public conferences for months.

The controversy has at instances gone to extremes: Some have known as for permits that permit hunters to shoot the strays, whereas others need them left alone fully. When captured, the canines are dropped at the shelter, the place they’re put up for adoption, or euthanized if they’re past medical assist.

“There are people who hate them, there are people who — you see it on the information, they shoot or poison them — and there’s individuals on the market who’re like, ‘OK, let’s make a schedule for feeding teams of strays,’” mentioned Julie Cunningham, a nurse whose pet cat was practically mauled to loss of life by three canines earlier this yr.

The island’s divisions have crept into Mr. Ibanez’s every day work, forcing him to go on seize missions at the hours of darkness of evening to keep away from the small variety of animal rights activists who’ve taken to heckling him and scaring away the strays.

“I by no means had issues till just lately,” he mentioned. “Folks take out their video and get in my face.”

He added: “In these moments, I’m shaking. I’m not a foul individual — I don’t name the pictures. And I attempt to not deliver that stress dwelling.”

Whereas Guam has lengthy contended with stray canines, it has by no means completed so with so few assets.

The animal management division misplaced many workers members within the early 2000s, when the Guam authorities moved the division to the Division of Agriculture. In late 2020, Mr. Ibanez grew to become the one officer within the area, after his final counterpart retired.

“In Guam, all the pieces is underfunded,” Mr. Luhr, of the animal shelter, mentioned. “That has been the historical past.”

“The job may be very tough,” he continued. “It has taken a toll on prior animal management officers, and also you see it. It’s this relentless circulation of emergencies.”

The animal management division has been trying to rent extra officers, and because the video of the airport canines went viral, the Guam authorities has handed laws to extend the shelter’s annual funding to $600,000 from $150,000.

These closest to the difficulty say that free or low-cost spaying and neutering packages are the very best long-term answer, although the island chronically struggles with a scarcity of veterinarians and a scarcity of training about sterilizing pets.

“I need a little bit bit extra of all the pieces,” mentioned Chelsa Muna-Brecht, director of the Guam Division of Agriculture. “It might take at the very least two to a few years with correct staffing and help of the island earlier than we might actually flip this round.”

As public debate rages on, Mr. Ibanez principally retains to himself, making his means by means of routine canine captures, animal abuse investigations and visits to areas recognized for vicious strays. He ignores any indignant social media posts about him, he mentioned, and tries to decompress by spending evenings together with his spouse.

“It’s a must to take care of lots — individuals’s feelings when you must take away their animals, or feelings whenever you see an animal sick or dying or abused,” he mentioned. “But it surely doesn’t get to me. It’s a must to deal with it, or the job shouldn’t be meant for you.”

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