Dogs, like our treasured islands, are a visible feature of our Tourism overseas. It never fails to amaze me that the oft asked question by athletes that are looking to come to compete in our Events is: What about the dogs?
You know it is a visible feature of our Tourism when the question is posed by people who have never been to Samoa, yet, they have heard about Samoa’s dog dilemma. The dog issue is damaging to our Tourism and the government should address it.
I try to ignore the issue, and offer reassurances that dogs are largely under control. But the problem is still there, and damaging to our image overseas. The revelation from the Oceania Gas Lalomanu Half Marathon winner, Andrew Sexton of Auckland, that he was chased by dogs not once but twice during the race.
He was so concerned about the problem that he had arranged for a car to lead him through the villages during the race. But that did not deter the dogs sitting by the side of the road in the early morning to have a go.
Andrew won the race, and he has blogged about it in his race report. The report is published in the Samoa Observer today. It will also be posted in Runners’ Forums to be read by runners from around the world that follow a champion, and who will at some point think of racing in the races Samoa has on offer, whether at Lalomanu, Savaii or Apia. Unfortunately, the dog problem will be on top of mind of any prospective runner thinking of heading to Samoa to race, let alone tourists who want to walk about freely, and they should, to enjoy our landscape, without being approached by dogs.
In Sexton’s case, the chasing dogs affected his race. On the return leg to Lalomanu, he was beginning to fade and was out of breath, yet the thought of dogs on the course was an imposing issue he had to deal with. No runner local or overseas should have to deal with that problem. No tourist visiting Samoa should have to deal with loose dogs anywhere in Samoa.
The issue of course has improved tremendously in Apia. The SIDS Conference two years ago was the catalyst to clean up the town area of stray dogs. But the issue is not stray dogs. It is family pets that lay claim to the roadside in our beautiful villages around the country.
On the morning of the race, the villages were in pristine and beautiful display, not so much for our event as many did not know it was even on, but as a matter of pride for our people in their homes and villages. Right throughout the 10.5km course from Lalomanu to Aufaga, 21kms on the return, you too would be proud of the efforts, to keep Samoa beautiful. Every 100m along the South Eastern coastline is a Kodak moment. But for dogs in the loose right at the Tourist belt of Upolu.
It is not a random problem. It happens every year and every time we have a race around Samoa. Take for instance the cover photograph for this story. This image was taken by Tony Callaghan last year of Aussie runner, Patrick Lyden, in the same race at the same spot and probably with the same dogs. There are few along here. A picturesque view of the race in the pristine part of Upolu, of a great event, but for the doggy issue.
Patrick survived the chase. A runner in the Perimeter relay a couple of years ago was not so lucky. That female runner from New Zealand was badly bitten and had to withdraw from the relay. The problem exists all around Samoa wherever dogs are free to roam. One of our competitors last year in the Warrior Race was attacked and suffered injuries. The rider from Wellington, New Zealand fell off her bike in the attack. Last year we had a rider in the Tour of Samoa cycle race who was terrified of dogs.
Being a slower rider she was on her own quite a lot and sure enough dogs sitting by the roads all over Samoa were attracted to her fear. The rider from Queenstown had to deal with the unnecessary pack chase by mutts, from Upolu to Savaii and back again. It was not at every village, but four dog chases during your tour is four too many. Such an unfortunate and unnecessary problem for our tourism when we least need this negative imagery. This is the fly in the ointment of the beauty that we offer the world. Something needs to be done to make it go away.
The thing is, users of public roads, local or overseas should not have to deal with the threat of dogs. Pet dogs are cute only to the owners and a pest to the rest of us, especially if they are sitting by the side of the road looking for some action. Local owners find it amazingly funny when someone is being chased by their mutt.
And worse, when there is an attack. Owners usually laugh at the situation and often do not realise that the dog was in the wrong to attack an innocent person using public access ways. And there goes the problem.
The onus has to be taken to dog owners and make them accountable under the law for injuries that are caused by their lovable pets, yours or mine. A $10,000 fine for proven dog attacks in public space should go a long way to sorting out the problem. That sounds heavy handed, but I tell you, the image of dogs in our tourism markets costs us even more in revenue. The heavy fine will never have to be paid because our law abiding citizens will ensure dog attacks will not happen again.
Also the fear of a $10,000 will ensure compliance. It will be a deterrent at least and will make dog owners keep pets away from roads. In the event of a dog attack, the owner will be charged and the fine imposed. The dog too may be destroyed where the law prescribes, but in the main the dog owner is responsible.
It will only happen a couple of times for the country to catch on that the government is serious about sorting out a damaging problem to its most important revenue stream – Tourism.