31 dogs eradicated by the SPTC… poisoning to continue

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

There is mounting concern from some sectors of the San Pedro Town community regarding a sudden dog eradication exercise recently carried out by the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC). The SPTC is claiming that after increasing concerns, the eradication exercise was necessary to bring a short term solution to the issue of stray animals on the island. After social website backlash following the eradication, in which 31 dogs were killed between the night of Monday July 9th and the morning of Tuesday July 10th, Mayor of San Pedro Town Daniel Guerrero responded in depth to explain the council’s decision for taking such actions.

The Mayor said that it was a combination of factors that led to the sudden eradication of dogs and the straw that broke the camel’s back was when he witnessed a tourist step in dog feces. “Based on that incident I said ‘it is enough’. There are just too many dogs out there and we have to do something about it. I took the decision against my will. I have been working with SAGA Humane Society and the San Pedro Animal Hospital. We have been getting complaints from tourists about the dog feces all over the beach and island,” said Mayor Guerrero.
But of more concern are the health issues that come with the animal excrement highlighted by the health facilities, both private and public, on the island. Mayor Guerrero said that for some time now the SPTC has been warned about the increase in medical issues in islanders as a result of the animals’ feces around public areas.

“It is a public health concern that we have always been indicating to the local authorities,” said Dr. Javier Zuniga of the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Poly Clinic II. “We are seeing an increase of Cutaneous Larva Migrants infection (locally known as bicho de perro) caused by dog and cat feces. It is caused when human are exposed to the excrement. Children go to the beaches and get exposed to these and other parasites that live in the sand where dogs and cats relieve themselves,” reiterated Dr. Zuniga. But that is only one way of getting sick as a result of stray dogs, cats and raccoons. Dr Zuniga also explained that another health concern is the garbage that is scattered from the bins. “Sometimes the garbage contains items that are very dangerous to one’s health. One good example is used pampers (diapers). It is not hygienic to have these waste materials exposed, it can cause serious skin infections,” explained Dr. Zuniga.

While the SPTC justifies the eradication as being a solution to problems caused by the high number of stray dogs, the humane society on the island is not happy with the method being used. The SPTC has been using strychnine capsules placed within pieces of meat to introduce poison into the body of the stray dogs. The Dogs Act Chapter 153 of the Laws Belize revised edition of 2000 allows the authority of “any city or town” to “place poison in any street or place of public resort in such city or town for the purpose of poisoning any dog which is at large therein.” Strychnine is not available to the public and is only sold with a license providing that it is used and supervised by a public health inspector.

According to the Public Health Department representative on the island, strychnine takes 10 to 20 minutes to see the first effects. There is no specific time as to how long the dog may take to die but it can last anywhere from 10 minutes to hours depending on the species, size of the animal and the amount of poison applied. “That’s the only option we have to eradicate dogs. That is the method available to us from the Health Department,” said Mayor Guerrero.

However, Chairman of the SAGA Humane Society Bill Milstead said that in a meeting that is being requested with the Mayor, SAGA will propose a more humane way of addressing the problem. “We have an eradication program at SAGA but we oppose to eradication by poisoning. There are other options to humanely euthanize dogs. We don’t like euthanizing an animal but we can understand it if there is a need to do so. By using an injection that will humanely put down the dog, [the process] is less painful,” said Milstead. According to both Mayor Guerrero and Milstead, there was a meeting a few weeks ago where they discussed developing a plan to deal with stray animals but Milstead said that the SPTC never communicated to them that the problem was to the point that eradication was necessary. “We indicated to the SPTC that we have the capability to euthanize a dog humanely. It is certainly not something we like doing, but we are proposing for us to take it over and euthanize the dogs by injection. It would cost the Council perhaps the same as placing capsules in meatballs. It will certainly eliminate the black eye the council is getting from the tourists and expats. They don’t like this,” explained Milstead.

According to Mayor Guerrero the eradication was done on all pavements from the Boca del Rio Bridge down to end of the of Sea Grape Drive. Of the approximately 180 dogs they had planned to eradicate, only 31 was done due to the rain. “I feel bad to say it, but we will continue to conduct this exercise. It is the only option available to us,” emphasized Mayor Guerrero. But Milstead said SAGA is an option. “We are here on the island and this is something we are capable of doing in a humane way. We have the resources to do it, but it would be nice if the council could provide us with one or two employees to round up the stray animals. The ones that are not adoptable, the ones that we can do nothing with, the ones that are causing problems, we will go ahead and euthanize them humanely,” ended Milstead.

Coincidentally at least two islanders that spoke to The San Pedro Sun indicated that their dogs were found dead inside their yard the following morning after the eradication. While the angry residents don’t have evidence, they strongly believe that their dogs were poisoned by the SPTC eradication exercise. The issuing and usage of strychnine is meticulously supervised and registered including quantity and date used. All capsules must be accounted for with the inspection of various entities including the Public Health Officer and a representative of the Police Department and the amount of capsules used must correspond with the number of dead animals. The San Pedro Town Council and the Public Health Department indicated that they can account for every capsule used. As to giving proper notification of conducting eradication exercise, Mayor Guerrero claims that while by law they are not obligated to do so, proper warning was given via the local television and radio stations.

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