Dogs to be counted on Raro

Esther Honey’s practice manager Carl Hartnett will be leading the foundation’s canine census.

Esther Honey’s practice manager Carl Hartnett will be leading the foundation’s canine census.

Cook Islands News
Sat, 31 Aug
The Esther Honey Foundation (EHF) will soon be taking on the lofty goal of counting the number of dogs on the island.

This is the fourth time the foundation has conducted a dog census on Rarotonga, which aims to collect accurate information about the number of island dogs and their reproductive status.

Until November 30, volunteers will be going door to door across the island to document the number of dogs, their sex, reproduction status, age, ownership and health status. Volunteers will carry cameras to help prevent them counting the same dog twice.

Esther Honey president and chief executive officer Cathy Sue Ragan-Anunsen said if volunteers find dogs that are not desexed, they will discuss the matter with the owner.

“If an intact dog is found, our team will remind owners that the service is free and how it benefits the animal, his family and community,” she said. “General health care questions will be answered, and any dogs who are identified as sick or injured will be treated or referred to the Esther Honey Foundation clinic. Those people unable to go to the clinic can make arrangements for EHF to collect their animal.”

Ragan-Anunsen said Esther Honey has been careful from the first census in 2008 to follow a standard, scientific method for gathering the data.

“The Esther Honey Foundation, following the World Health Organisation and World Society for the Protection of Animal’s recommended surveying techniques in conjunction with third party consultations and reviews, has conducted complete Rarotonga censuses in 2008, 2010 and 2011,” she said.

“Esther Honey and the community have a long-term investment in this scientifically–based and proven management programme that is recognised as being the first in the region to succeed in sterilising more than 70 per cent of its dog population.

“Studies show that once this percentage is reached, the number of dogs will drop dramatically as long as spay neuter services continue. The censuses help us to monitor this investment.

The EHF 2010 and 2011 census reports confirmed that the number of dogs on the island has been significantly reduced and that more than 70 per cent of the dogs are desexed, she said.

“We don’t know what the figures of the 2013 census will show, but we do know that the only way to maintain these improvements that we all have worked so long and so hard to achieve and continue the decline is to desex as many untreated animals as possible.”

Conducting the census requires significant time, a sufficient number of volunteers and adequate funds, said Ragan-Anunsen.

“Using EHF’s 2010 census as an example, 26 EHF volunteers rotated throughout 93 days, averaging five hours per day per person, equaling more than 465 hours of surveying to collect the required census information,” she said.

Bike rentals and gas for the exercise cost $1550.

“When we were invited to come to Rarotonga in 1993, it was primarily the result of authorities shooting dogs for population control,” she said. “The per cent of desexed dogs was likely near zero. We were told that 1000 dogs had been killed and read the publications carrying stories from tourists who witnessed and were horrified by this practice. We accepted the invitation to help primarily because of one Raro dog named Honey.

“There were no programme models to follow at that time, as the Esther Honey Foundation was the first of its kind in the region, if not beyond, but over the next two years we assembled the necessary components to establish the Cook Islands’ only companion animal veterinary hospital,” she said.

“Our first volunteer team was led by Dr Byron Maas and Cook Islander Tom Wichman. They began to spay and neuter and document the numbers treated. We have maintained and built on those records ever since.”

The Esther Honey Foundation and its thousands of supporters and volunteers have contributed more than $6 million in veterinary goods and services to the Cook Islands. EHF teams have treated more than 36,700 animals, including desexing more than 13,800.

“We introduced a plan to improve the animal health conditions throughout the Cook Islands in large part by humanely and purposefully reducing the number of unwanted dogs and cats through spaying and neutering and humane education,” said Ragan-Anunsen.

Briar Douglas