Another Perspective on Island Dogs

Girls with Cali
Cook Islands News Aug 27, 2013


Dear Editor,

As practice manager at the Esther Honey Foundation clinic, I have a very different perspective on our island dogs than those views expressed in the two recent letters of complaint. I talk with lots of tourists who stop by our stall at the market every week and nearly all comment on how well-behaved, friendly, gentle and well-cared for Raro dogs are.

It is also common for visitors who have been to other countries to talk about how they will not go back to Samoa, Fiji or Tonga because of the huge number of roaming packs of unhealthy, aggressive dogs. A person who had recently visited all three of these islands described the dog situation on these islands as “horrific” adding, “The more I see of the Esther Honey Foundation the more I value it.”

Some people regard dogs’ natural behaviour such as barking and socialising with other dogs as offensive or even threatening but there are many others who see and appreciate the benefits of dogs. Researchers recognise the many mental and physical health benefits of interacting with animals. People living with animals are less likely to have strokes, suffer heart attacks or experience depression, for example. More than a few tourists have described their experience with island canines as one of the highlights of their Rarotonga experience. People from all over the world stay in contact with us via email about the dogs they fell in love with while on holiday and want to know how those dogs are.

Because dogs are territorial, they can be excellent protectors for individuals and businesses. Some accommodation providers use dogs to guard their premises and protect their guests from intruders and thieves. Territorialism can create problems as described by one of the letter writers who correctly added that the incident was not the fault of the dogs, and we agree. A house can be guarded without putting other people at risk by confining dogs to the yard. People who want to enjoy the companionship and benefits of having dogs need to assume the responsibility to see that their dogs do not infringe on the rights of others.

There has to be some flexibility and accommodation however, if we are going to share the island with other living beings. The fact is that the number of dogs on the island has declined significantly over the years. The Esther Honey Foundation follows the World Health Organisation recommended, scientifically-proven, CNR dog management programme. This method has been confirmed by subsequent studies and is generally accepted by experts as the most effective solution for dog overpopulation.

Esther Honey has desexed thousands—more than 13,800 island animals—at no charge. In addition to being sterile, neutered dogs are less likely to wander, show aggression and roam in packs.

More than $50,000 in New Zealand aid and a $15,000 personal donation from a local businessman have been invested in pound/shelter schemes in the Cook Islands and yet dog management authorities agree that killing or catching and putting animals into shelters has only a temporary effect. It is useless as a measure to reduce the population on the long term. The Esther Honey Foundation dog management programme, provided free of charge is the only management programme that has resulted in any verifiable, documented long-term results.

EHF Census Reports (2010 and 2011) confirm that, together, Esther Honey and the Rarotonga community have significantly and humanely decreased the number of dogs on the island from 6,000 to fewer than 2,000.

The only way to maintain these improvements and continue the decline is to desex as many untreated animals as possible.

There is more work to be done and we are here to do it. But we can’t accomplish the goal that we all share without everyone doing their part. I know that most Cook Islanders love their dogs and their cats, I see it every day. But loving pets is not enough.

Responsible individuals need to:

  • Bring as many untreated dogs as possible to the clinic for surgery.
  • Accept the responsibility for nuisance behaviour of a dog in your care and solve the problem in a humane, non-lethal manner. Ask us. We are here to help.

If everyone will do just these two things we can maintain the dog population at a level that most reasonable and knowledgeable people can agree is acceptable.

Carl Hartnett
Practice manager
Esther Honey Foundation