For more than five years, Nicholas Ibanez has had a unique job on the island of Guam: resident dogcatcher. But it's not an easy one, mainly because the 41-year-old is extremely outnumbered, by about 30,000 strays to one. With a human population on Guam of around 170,000, that's the equivalent of one stray for nearly every six residents, and it's become an untenable situation. "There's way too many issues and animals," Ibanez tells the New York Times, which details his daily travails in the American territory overrun with the homeless pooches, which roam pretty much everywhere, attack people and pets, and increase the chance of spreading rabies.
The strays have been prominent on the 200-square-mile island for at least 50 years, and officials have tried to remedy the problem by doing everything from commissioning the US military to shoot the dogs to poisoning them, says Cyrus Luhr of the Guam Animals in Need animal shelter, where captured dogs are brought to be put up for adoption or euthanized if they're too sick or hurt. Last year, the Guam Daily Post reported that a $200,000-plus stray dog control initiative fell through after the US Department of the Interior rebuffed a plan to fund the program via an invasive species grant.
Compounding Ibanez's workday stress is the fact that he's caught between vigilante-type residents who want to shoot or poison the strays, and animal activists who want the dogs left alone (they'll even set up feeding schedules for them). The latter group has forced Ibanez to do much of his capture work at night to avoid confrontation. The stress of the job eventually prompted other animal control officers to retire from their posts, leaving Ibanez as the only one on the island as of last October.
Officials say free and reduced-cost neutering and spaying may be the only way to get the issue under control, though funding and staffing is an issue, and the head of Guam's Department of Agriculture tells the Times that even if such a program were to come into play, it would still take a few years "before we could really turn this around." In the meantime, Ibanez, who appears to make around $30,000 per year for his efforts, continues to face the tens of thousands of strays each day amid the politics of the island. "It doesn't get to me," he says. "You have to handle it, or the job is not meant for you." (Read more Guam stories.)