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By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 27) – John F. Kennedy High School teacher Colette Beausoliel was driving down Nimitz Hill toward Maina recently when she saw a pack of dogs mauling a wild pig to death.

Though the pig had tusks and was much bigger than any of the dogs, the dogs worked as a pack and together were able to pick at the pig until they could overpower it.

But the really scary part, she said, was that the mauling took place near a school bus stop.

"It's a full adult boonie pig," she said. "If people think we don't have a problem with our boonie dogs, this shows it. There's a school bus stop not far from there and the pig is a lot bigger than a child would be."

Though no formal survey of the number of boonie dogs on Guam has been done in recent years, Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Joseph Torres, who is in charge of the Animal Control Division, roughly estimates the number of stray and unwanted cats and dogs on island at between 25,000 and 30,000 - and growing. Other Public Health estimates have reached 40,000, according to Pacific Daily News files.

In 2003, the island's only animal shelter, Guam Animals in Need, or GAIN, received 3,000 stray, unwanted or feral animals, according to Karon Johnson, a GAIN volunteer who also has been on GAIN's board. Of those animals, about 500 were adopted out and 2,500 were euthanized, she said.

Christine Pascus, volunteer manager at the shelter, said there are two different kinds of stray animals: Some have or have had some contact with humans and live largely on garbage and human handouts. Others have had very little or no contact with humans, and they behave entirely differently, roaming the island's boonies in packs and living off wildlife, she said.

"Feral dogs are not domesticated dogs, they are a different breed of dog. They may look like one, but they are basically wild. They roam in packs, and they hunt down deer or wild boor or whatever they can. They're like a wolf pack, and there's a hierarchy within the pack, and they roam around as such and they hunt down animals," she said. "A lot of the stray dogs aren't like that. They feed off of garbage, they haven't converted to the wild animal."

"It's hard to say if a feral dog pack would be brave enough to attack (domesticated animals or a young child). There's that potential, they're unpredictable, there's no way of predicting their behavior," she said. "I don't think they would have enough confidence to go after young children, but I wouldn't be able to say for sure, there's always that possibility."

Many residents already take precautions against the potential danger of the boonie dogs.

Yona resident Joseph Roman, 53, takes about a 6-mile walk a couple times a week in Ordot. As he walks, he carries a stick in case he needs to fend off boonie dogs.

He said he's used the stick before.

"Yeah, sometimes. They just come out of nowhere," he said as he walked yesterday afternoon.

"They're just guarding their ground, especially if I'm around their food, like the garbage," he said.

Dogs aren't the only wild domestic animals on island: feral cats, though less conspicuous, are also populous on island, Pascus said.

"You just don't see the cats the way you see the dogs, they're pretty elusive. They, like the feral dogs, tend to stay in the jungle because it's pretty easy hunting there," she said.

Torres said the jungle areas of both military bases on Guam are thought to be home to stray animals.

Sgt. Jeff Capenos, who works in the public affairs office on Andersen Air Force Base, said the base has two full-time animal control officers who trap stray animals and turn them over to GAIN.

Though Capenos said Andersen is not aware of a large population of cats or dogs on their property, Torres said the population is probably larger than they are aware of.

In January 2003, the Department of Agriculture released 44 Guam rails, an endangered bird species indigenous to Guam, to Andersen, hoping to reestablish a population in the wild. However, within about two months of the release, all but one of the 26 birds that had been fitted with transmitters had been killed. And the killer was not the usual suspect -- the brown tree snake that nearly drove the species to extinction two decades ago -- but rather, feral cats.

At the time, then-Division of Aquatics and Wildlife Resources chief Gerry Davis said the department would need to hire "someone to temporarily dedicate a fair amount of time to dealing with cats."

Torres said part of what's caused Guam's burgeoning population of stray and feral animals is simple human kindness and sympathy.

"There's a lot of people who see stray animals and feel sorry for them and then feed them, but then deny ownership and don't get them to a vet," he said.

When the dogs are fed, they become stronger and more likely to breed, he said.

Animal Control does the best it can to deal with the problem, picking up about 10 to 15 animals a day, according to one of the department's animal control specialists. But the problem, Torres said, is that there are only a total of three animal control specialists in the department and they are tasked to tackle a problem involving tens of thousands of animals. Animal control is also responsible for cleaning up dead animals and road kill, he said.

Torres said the department has recently received funding to buy about a dozen more dog traps, which they plan to use around schools and other island hotspots of boonie dogs.

Ultimately, the department would like to at least double its animal control force and acquire about 40 dog traps that it could use in conjunction with the village mayors' offices, he said. The department is planning to work with the mayors to build a holding corral in each village, so any stray dogs caught could be kept in the holding cage for animal control specialists to pick up.

Those kinds of solutions might help the problem without requiring extensive public funding, Torres said.

Another important solution to the problem is to encourage residents to spay and neuter their animals, Pascus said.

"The feral dogs on Guam got here basically because they weren't spayed or neutered," she said. "The only way to decrease the statistics is really to spay and neuter animals, so you don't get the stray dogs that turn into feral dogs. If people would take more responsibility and take the time to spay and neuter their dogs and cats, it's less likely we'll have these packs running around. And without sterilizing the animals, the packs will only increase, they won't decrease. ... And because of their instinct, they have to eat, and they'll do whatever it takes to get that food."

After seeing the dogs maul the wild pig, Beausoliel called the police and went to a nearby veterinarian to see if they could help the problem, but she's not sure if anything was done to break the pack up.

She said Guam needs to work harder at containing the boonie dog population, perhaps by loosening the restrictions on who can spay and neuter pets.

If nothing is done, she said, it's possible Guam will see the horror that other communities have: the mauling of a child or adult.

"A dog is a wolf, they're out of that (genetic) line, so when they're allowed to run freely, they will engage in those kinds of behavior," she said.

"If they're doing this to a wild pig that has tusks, what is going to keep them from doing it to a little kid that might run?" she said. "Some of these kids are so tiny, toddling off with their little backpacks, and I think of the potential of a child getting frightened of a dog and running, and the dog chasing it with the other dogs joining in the pursuit. I think it's a possibility of there being a mauling of a kid."

December 27, 2004

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