Let’s do something about our stray dogs

Isn’t it time we did something about the island’s stray dog problem? Currently there is a public outcry to have the stray dog issue addressed differently, regardless of how people feel about dogs or what group they fall into.

After doing some volunteer work at both of the shelters this year, we decided to help out by doing some local adoption events such as the Thursday Market, 360 market, Joeten Superstore (Costco), Atkins Kroll, and others. It was great to see some animals get adopted, but something else happened. I didn’t notice the significance the first time, but after a few weeks it kicked in. 

Week after week, groups of locals started to gather around and talk about the stray dog situation. These discussions would get heated and loud, and you could tell that people were passionate about this issue. Many locals had different views and reasons why it mattered, some I had never even thought of. But, it appeared that the “nobody cares” view—that I had been led to believe—was wrong. Aside from the obvious animal lovers and pet owners, we had:

• Tourists, who are saddened to see sickly and starving dogs everywhere on their vacation.

• Parents, who worry about their children being bitten or chased by packs of stray dogs.

• Drivers, who don’t want to get in a wreck because a dog or cat runs in front of their car.

• Business owners, who work hard on their property’s appearance, only to have sickly dogs running around.

• Shelter employees. Often overlooked are the employees of the current dog control program. They are forced to kill dozens of healthy animals every week in a program that is not improving the current stray dog population. It is wearing on their souls and is more than we should ask of any of our residents. All shelters deal with this, but not in such an exponential volume as we are asking of them.

I headed to the Legislature to see what could be done. I met with Rep. Ed Propst first to see where I should start. After telling him about the groups that gathered in heated discussion, his reply was simple: “Find out if there are more people that care.” With this advice, we printed out 10 petitions and placed them in 10 stores around island. The petition asked if you were interested in “a government-funded vet that can provide low-cost, affordable spay and neuter for their animals (often less than $25).” The response was great. Not only did the petitions fill up both signature pages, people also flipped them over and added more signatures to the back. Even with one going missing, and one being ruined by weather, we had over 500 signatures in two weeks!

After having previously questioned everyone involved that we could find, researching similar sized islands with similar issues, and spitballing in these circles that formed at every adoption event, the new plan was get a vet. We needed a high-volume spray and neuter veterinarian that was government-funded so that local people could have their animals fixed at little to no cost. This high-volume vet could fix all of our strays, even if we don’t have room to shelter them. If the funding was available, we could manage a bit of treatment along the way. As far as the procedures of spay and neuter goes, after speaking with many vets in person, it only use about $3 to $15 in materials.

At this point, I headed to my long-awaited meeting at the Saipan Mayor’s Office. I met with Mayor Apatang’s special assistant, Henry Hofschneider, for an on-the-record interview. It was, to say the least, disappointing. He did tell me that the mayor’s office “asked for $100,000 for a vet” but there weren’t any in the budget. But after he told me that the mayor’s office felt the solutions were to “educate the public” about not leaving out scraps and leashing their pets, I felt that he was missing the point. 

So, again, I headed back to the Legislature. After expressing my concerns to Rep. Propst, he said that he could help! In order to make sure that the funding was going to be there when we need it, he and a small team could use some “unappropriated funds” and maybe get enough for two years. We would, however, need a vet to make this all work.

I knew that the mayor’s office had trouble with the $100,000 annual budget, and that didn’t necessarily mean that this vet would be able to handle high-volume spay/neuter or had any enough funds for supplies. So my goal was to find the right vet, somewhere on earth, for half that. That would leave plenty of money for supplies if the request passed, and wiggle room if it didn’t. This island isn’t a hard sell. I figured there must be plenty of veterinarians out there that have already made a lot of money and want to live somewhere amazing. I got more emails and messages from the first week of various online postings than I could reply to in three months!

I headed back to the Legislature to speak with Senate President Arnold Palacios. I decided to play it smart and led with the petition signatures. After running him through our story and a couple great stories from him, he said that he would be happy to do all he can to support this funding. So that was it. A couple months have passed and we’ve found two great veterinarians that would love to move here and are willing to take a significant pay cut to $50,000. They both have a lot of experience in high volume spay and neuter, and both are passionate about helping. Virginia Cunningham has a Kindergartener and her husband works in healthcare; she can start December. Amber Hinson has worked for long extents around the globe and can start October. Also Dr. Portalatin and Dr. Johnson have already booked small vacations to volunteer and consider the island. 

An estimated 27.4 puppies and kittens are born in the jungles and backstreets of Saipan every single day. Two-thirds die of starvation and disease. We would need to put down nine a day to maintain current populations. Let’s beat this problem at its source, save lives, and improve the island.

The hard part is done. The only thing left to do is to call and remind our elected officials. 

Lucas Gillies
Chalan Kanoa Saipan

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