The Pacific Islands are famous for their natural beauty and unique culture. But they are experiencing a growing issue: an increasing stray dog population. A 2014 survey by Humane Society International reported that there were around 30,000 stray dogs in Guam. On a 500 square kilometer island with a population of 167,00 people—that’s one stray dog for every seven residents. They are also known as boonies—a term also used to describe the dense jungle of Guam, home to a diverse array of wildlife.
The surge in the number of stray dogs in Guam can be attributed to the lack of animal shelters and affordable spay and neutering services. By 2019, the number of stray dogs on the island had reached an estimated 25,000 to 65,000 due to uncontrolled breeding. The authorities lack the resources and funding to address this issue comprehensively.
According to Guam veterinarian Dr. Mariana Turner, the origin of this problem can be traced back to 1940 when US Marines introduced 60 canines to Guam—mainly Doberman Pinschers, German Shepards, and a few mongrels. The dog population has since multiplied manifold due to unchecked breeding, leading to several unintended problems for inhabitants of the island. Post-war, as the allies established military bases in Guam, it exacerbated the problem with more pets accompanying the military families to the island.
“Unfortunately, sometimes they have to leave their animals behind,” according to an interview from Dr. Turner with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
These stray dogs have had a detrimental effect on the island’s ecosystem. Not only have they attacked native birds and reptiles, but also people. Eighty percent of the stray dog population is vicious, and hospitals report stray dogs biting kids and elderly people.
”They often spread diseases like rabies and leptospirosis when they bite children,” says Anthony Henri Oftana of The New York Times. Furthermore, the dogs’ fecal matter can pollute beaches and watersheds, posing health risks.
Guam Animals In Need (GAIN) and the Guam Humane Society have been working to address this issue. One approach taken was to provide free spay and neuter services to pet owners. This reduced the number of unwanted litters. In recent years, these efforts have had some success. The number of dogs euthanized in Guam decreased from over 3,000 in 2011 to under 1,000 in 2019.
In 2021, Boonie Flight Project, run by volunteers and relying solely on donations, shipped over 400 dogs to over 25 states in the US. They pick up stray dogs off the street and from shelters, get them healthy, and find them a home stateside. In April 2021, COVID-19 presented a perfect opportunity. “Everybody [in the US] got bored and adopted a puppy,” Lauren Cabrera, co-founder of Boonie Flight Project, said. As of 2023, these two organizations have merged in an effort to further address and combat the issue of stray animals in Guam. The Boonie Flight Project, or BFP, and Guam Animals In Need, also known as GAIN, have united as one as of last month, according to Cabrera.