Ads by Google Ads by Google

Stray dogs are allowed to roam freely in American Samoa

Deborah Michelson
There are no laws to help control the dog population, only one that kills them if they prove dangerous

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — There are no laws against stray dogs in the territory despite concerns by the government that stray dogs paint an ugly picture with incoming tourists on island.

Deborah Michielson, from Virginia, was brought here to help and brings 26 years of experience in the field of animal control to the island, by the Department of Health.

 “The previous Vet that was working here (in American Samoa) had reached out to me and said they were starting to push Animal Control Agency in trying to get people trained for that, and they didn’t have anybody to train, and if I could come out and help.”

 Michielson, known as ‘Debbie’ to friends and animal lovers on island, told Samoa News the Department of Health Veterinarian Services completed a training on animal care and shelter at the Argosy/ DoH Headquarters in Tafuna this week.

Part of the issues they’ve run into here is that “there are no laws they can enforce.

 “There are few laws in the book. One says if you have an aggressive dog, and even growl at somebody, it can be ceased and put down.

“However there is nothing against dogs that are running loose or anything that says a dog has to be fed or cared for with the Vet clinic.”

 Michielson is calling for laws to be put in place to address the issues of stray dogs and protect them as well.

 “To be able to write some laws that fit Options can go on (like) you must provide this for your animals and we have to have the ability to go back and enforce that.

“Because we can just tell them that and not enforce it then we don’t go anywhere.

“It’s just a lip service. We’re working on trying to go forward.”

 The animal control expert has been here since November 28 of 2022 and says she “was sent here to teach animal control to the officers they have here.

“To show them techniques they could use to help in their jobs, find out if there’s equipment we have that could help them do their jobs and just help the animal control side and the animal shelter side move forward.”

 Michielson spoke to Samoa News about her mission, saying “when I was asked to come here I was told there was a huge over population of stray and frail dogs.

 “They described them as extremely aggressive chasing you up your cars.

“I have found that there’s a huge amount of stray dogs.

“I haven’t found them to be as aggressive as I was led to believe. That’s not to say, as, not a lot of animal bites here, and dogs that would chase bicycle and cars, but I find them just strays and looking for food.

“The main issue is the huge amount of stray dogs. We do have some stray cats also.”

 Michielson says she was only suppose to be here for three months, but “they asked me to stay longer and so I’ve been helping out and I thought the best way that I could help out was, while I could teach them some stuff, is to get somebody to teach them (overall).”

“So we were able to get my very first Boss, Mr Mark Kumph when I started in Animal Control. He now teaches all over the world teaching different classes, and he’s been in the Industry for 37 years, and with him here he’s been able to teach a variety of people.”

When asked about a survey of stray dogs, Michielson said, “When they asked me to come here they said this is an island of approximately 45,000 people and there was over 10 thousand stray dogs.”

However, after six months on the job (animal control), the expert “thinks the population is much higher than that. But no one really knows —  as far as I know, no one has done a census on how many.

I understand before I got here they would try to send people out to the different villages to count a few here and there. But nobody really kept up with it so there’s always been an estimate. And when you go into the mountains and hills there’s animals out there.” 

Michielson also acknowledged the Governor’s concerns about the “tourism aspects, the ships coming back and people getting off the ships and just seeing stray dogs all over, and people posting on Face Book that they stayed at a hotel and were chased by a dog.

That’s one concern of the government leader about the “stray dogs running all over and the image” that such a view can present, she said. “So part of our plan is to get this fixed and aggressive dogs off the street. And talking to the people and see if we could get people to care for the dogs more —keep them at home provide them with that care.”

  She also acknowledged the support and presence of Andrea Samoa, animal clinic’s Consultant, the Governor’s Office Attorney. She said all these people that want to work together and learn what we need and put together a series of just few simple laws:

“You must provide food, shelter and water; you can’t let your dog run loose off your property; you dog must have a license, just basic things that we can enforce and get people to better understand.

“And this class that we brought here was originally just to teach the animal control officers on how to do their jobs.

“Mr Mark is facilitating the workshop said he could fit up to 30 people. We have a staff of 12. We talked about it and we decided to offer it out to the Police department, the Customs, and to civilians. People that are interested.

“So for the animal control part, where we did law enforcement and court room testimony, we have four police officers and two Custom agents that were very interested, asking lots of questions and it shows that something is happening.

“The Animal care has a small shelter near the Industrial Park, with ten kennels.

The animal clinic plan for a group of builders to build a new shelter and realistically it’s going to be in couple of years.

Mark Kumpht ran a four day of training Tuesday to Friday for Animal Control Certification for those from the Health Department Animal Control,

For the Department of Public Safety, Customs department, and the public, this week they were learning about doing shelter technique certification, and how to care for animals and operate an animal shelter.

Kumpht believes that,every profession needs training. The more training they get the more experience they have and the better service they can provide for people with pets in American Samoa.

“This is the first training of its kind it’s been done for people on the island,” he said.