The issue of dog poisoning is always a very sensitive topic when it comes to government officials using it as a form of controlling the stray dog population in the country. It has been a practice used for years in Belize, and in this day and age when there are various other techniques that can be used, people wonder why the poisoning of dogs with strychnine is still carried out.
On Monday, July 9, 2012, the San Pedro Town Council authorized the eradication of stray dogs by poisoning them with food laced with strychnine. The next morning many residents and dog owners were in uproar about the situation and started to lash out at Mayor Daniel Guerrero and the San Pedro Town Council.
It was confirmed to Ambergris Today that 31 dogs were killed during the late night poisonings which was carried out as a joint effort by the San Pedro Town Council, the Health Department, Police Department and Town Foremen.
Newly elected president of Saga Humane Society, Bill Milstead, says that not more than six weeks ago he attended a meeting with San Pedro Mayor, Daniel Guerrero, at which they discussed Saga’s plan to control the pet overpopulation on the island within five years. Milstead said he thought an understanding was agreed upon with the mayor for a short term solution for the pet problems and never once was the practice of poisoning stray dogs mentioned as being imminent.
So why did the Town Council decide on such a hard decision without notifying anybody? Mayor Daniel Guerrero told Ambergris Today that there were two reasons for the decision, one being that he was under pressure by the Health Department and secondly a rise of complaints from both locals and tourists.
“A lot of tourists have been coming to the offices of the Town Council and complaining about all the feces around town,” commented Mayor Guerrero. “The other day I witnessed an elderly tourist step into this large pile of dog feces and I helped her clean up. She told me, ‘You have a beautiful island but it’s too filthy with garbage and poo.’ I felt so bad that I had to take some action.”
Besides the pressure from complaining tourists and residents, Mayor Guerrero stated that he has also been pressured by the Health Department which has expressed concerns over health issues. Tape worm infections and respiratory problems are just a couple of the health issues identified in relation to feces left by stray dogs all around the island.
“We counted about 200 stray dogs the other day when we went out to assess the situation,” commented Mayor Guerrero. “We counted as much feces on the streets, sidewalk and in other public places. Many areas smell bad, vehicle tires drag it all over the place, it goes into the drains and when it dries up we inhale it when it is picked up by the wind. It’s a serious health problem that I had to take action as it is getting out of hand.”
The Mayor says he felt obliged to act on the situation and since the government is carrying out countrywide initiatives at the moment, he just reacted quickly, with all the pressure he was under.
“I understand how people feel about dog poisoning; I feel for them and the dogs too, but the problem is getting out of control and something needs to be done fast,” he stated.
Mayor Guerrero stands by his decision and supports his actions when he states that the town has not been receptive to the Town Council’s requests for dog owners to keep their pets indoors or tied down in their yards. He assures the public that his workers are not throwing poison laced food into anybody’s yard or doorstep. He says if private pets have been killed it is because they were on the streets. He also mentioned that there is no law stating that a notice has to be posted before eradication takes place; the Council has the authority to carry one out whenever they feel it be necessary. After the dogs and untouched food are picked up, they are taken to the dump site and buried.
Meanwhile, Saga President Bill Milstead says that SAGA needs to be informed of problem areas for the organization to target.
“We can conduct roundups in said areas,” commented Milstead to Ambergris Today. “Companion animals that are not adoptable can be humanely euthanized. We have the facilities and the vet on staff and the supplies to do so for not much more money than is being spent to eradicate by poisoning.”
And while the Mayor is open to alternative methods of controlling the stray dog problem on the island and willing to work with Saga, he says this might not be the last time that dog poisoning takes place, that is if people don’t get the message of keeping their dogs out in the streets unsupervised. The Mayor says that the pressure of keeping islanders healthy and the island clean is his top priority.