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Large stray dog population can be resolved: veterinarian

The stray dog issue in Samoa can be resolved but is complex and would take time and resources, says the Animal Protection Society [A.P.S.] veterinarian, Dr Harriet Thornton.

In an interview with the Samoa Observer on Tuesday, Dr Thornton said the first issue is the definition of a “stray dog” in Samoa, which can be tricky as it can be hard to tell at times.

"It's difficult to know what's a stray dog and what's an owned-dog because all the dogs are fairly free roaming, so unless they have an obvious indication they’re owned, like a collar, it's difficult to know who’s actually an owned dog and who’s a true stray,” Dr. Thornton said.

And as a vet, she believes that desexing the animal can provide a solution, to address the issue of stray dogs in Samoa.

"The way to solve a population issue is desexing because you can go around and you can round up all the stray dogs that are currently in Apia, and you can cull them all but in a year, there will be a whole new population of new stray dogs produced.

“If you desex all the female dogs then you’re never going to get a second wave of population because you are controlling the population, culling dogs is vital in the stray population because there are very many sick and injured animals that need humane euthanasia, whether that’s done by us or whether that’s done by the dog management unit, I don’t mind as long as its humane.”

But culling the dog population on the islands might not necessarily address the issue as Dr. Thornton believes that if between 50 to 100 dogs are put down, the entire dog population of the country could be greater than that.

"So the key is you have to come at it from a lot of angles, euthanasia of dogs is necessary because even driving around you can see stray dogs with broken legs, stray dogs that are very ill, skinny dogs and dogs with multiple injuries or fighting wounds and a lot of that is will be beyond the point of which they can be reasonably fixed,” she added. 

“We take in some strays and the ones that we treat, we treat and rehome but that’s a tiny proportion of the problem and we don’t have the capacity to deal with all the stray dogs as a general.

“But as it has always been our opinion and it's backed up by a lot of evidence from a lot of other countries that the key to population control is desexing.”

Dr. Thornton emphasised that there is no one-stop-solution to resolving the stray dog population, and believes it is intrinsically linked with the population at large, as there are a lot of stray dogs that she believes are not truly stray.

“They don’t have a collar, they don’t have a tag so it's difficult to decide for who’s and who is owned. So that might be a good start in us determining actually how big the issue is is making sure that all the owned dogs have a mark of some kind," she said.

She explained there is evidence from other countries of a lot of other population control programs, which have shown that if you implement a mass desexing program, your stray dog population problem will be resolved a lot quicker.

According to Dr. Thornton, in order to resolve dog population issues, it will probably take five to 10 years of work and it is not an immediately resolvable issue.

“I know that there is a census that is being done or being conducted at the moment and the last census on domestic animal population was about 10 years ago.

“So it will be interesting to see how much we’ve grown in 10 years in terms of domestic animal population because the agricultural side has grown significantly which is a good thing.

“But I suspect the domestic animal population is also increased exponentially because we are desexing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dogs a year here but are limited by capacity and it's not going to solve the problem alone so you need a lot more funding, a lot more capacity, a lot more surgeons and a bit more of a multifaceted approach from several different agencies to sort this problem out.

“But with the best one in the world it's a long goal, its years and years to get the population down and at the moment probably capacity is going to be an issue.”

Dr. Thornton added that there is a lot of evidence from multiple countries that have done mass spay neuter release or trap neuter release programs, which are shown to be a lot more effective by trapping all the dogs, desexing them and letting them back to live their lives.

"And that's going to be a much more effective programme but I said that the barriers to us doing that are funding, capacity and getting suitably qualified people involved,” she added. 

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