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Jun 29, 2000

A night of strychnine and strays

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If you’ve ever walked down the street and heard someone say, look at that smashed to smithereens rat or do you see that bloated cat floating in the drain, be honest, something inside you makes you look, even if it’s just for a second. Perhaps it was that strange phenomenon that drove reporter/cameraman Brent Toombs to go along with the City Council workers last night to watch them deal with the strays. For you fans of blood and gore, we won’t have anything you’d enjoy. What we do have is the story behind the strychnine and you can decide for yourself whether it’s inhumane or not.

Brent Toombs, Reporting

As the clock strikes midnight, the death warrant is read. On this night there will be no call from the governor, no last minute stay of execution. But, for the condemned, there will be a last meal.

Lawrence Ellis, Chief Environmental/Sanitation Officer

“I’m preparing the meat for the eradication, just to make sure the pill is inside the meat.”

The pill being inserted into the meat is strychnine. It is such a powerful poison that one small tablet is all it takes to kill a dog. Two would be enough to kill a human.

Lawrence Ellis

“It’s the pill recommended by the Public Health Department. We use what they have available.”

But killing dogs with strychnine is not supported by The Belize Humane Society, nor the Belize Veterinarian Association. It’s not the policy of euthanasia that is at issue with these organizations, rather it’s the method being used.

Michael DeShields, President, Belize Veterinary Assoc.

“It’s a very toxic drug, the animal dies very inhumanely. They die within an hour or two hours, but it’s very painful. They go into spasms, and they actually dies of exhaustion due to the muscle contraction and hypoxia, lack of oxygen. So it’s a very, very painful way to put down an animal, and it’s not the answer.”

Lawrence Ellis

“It’s a system that we’ve been using for years. We welcome any alternative. The City Council is willing to work with any agency, any department that has a better method.”

Michael DeShields

“We thought we were working with them! They are frustrated that things are not happening fast enough. We’re a voluntary organization, we depend on contribution. We’ve been asking for a piece of land to put up a shelter to take strays off the streets.”

Maria Villanueva, Belize Humane Society

“Because there is no shelter, we cannot give them the help we would like. First of all, we cannot afford to put a big huge shelter up, we’d have to go by baby steps. A temporary shelter, with some runs, where we can catch these dogs, examine them, see which ones are adoptable and which ones have to be put to sleep.”

So just after midnight, armed with bags of poisoned meat, Ellis and two members of the Public health unit hit the streets in search of their prey. Every dog may have its day, but this is not going to be their night.

Lawrence Ellis

“The stray dog population is getting out of control. We need to take charge of it and get them under control.”

While Ellis’s objective is to control the animal population, the Health Department is primarily concerned with keeping tabs on the poison being used. Because strychnine is so lethal, extreme caution and attention is paramount.

Lawrence Ellis

“We must ensure that we see the dogs digest the meat. After it has been digested we will record where and we move on. If the meat is not digested and if the pill falls out, then we must retrieve the pill and the public health inspector is going to take charge of it.”

A surprising number of dogs seem to be wise to the trap. More than a few hungry hounds say “no thanks” to the tainted treat.

Lawrence Ellis

“Right now we are just waiting here to make sure the dog eats the meat. He’s not going to eat it so we have to go and

retrieve it.”

And every time the meat is not swallowed, the health inspectors reclaim the poisoned pill. Making sure that there will be no unintended victims on their watch.

But there are plenty of pooches who just can’t resist a nice piece of stewed beef. After swallowing the strychnine it will take a while for these dogs to die. We will not be here to witness their demise, so the location of the animal is noted and sanitation workers will remove the bodies in the morning.

As the night wears on it becomes apparent that there is no shortage of stray dogs in Belize. But according to Ellis, this is not a typical night.

Lawrence Ellis

“So far it’s not as successful as we would have thought. It seemed that the public took notice and locked up their dogs.”

But by the end of the mission there is plenty of canine carnage to be found. In all 71 dogs were destroyed.

Lawrence Ellis

“It’s not something I like to do. It’s a part of my job and so it’s necessary that we do it, but we need to do it and the job must get done and we’ll go out and do it.”

And until the Belize Humane Society is in a position to provide an alternative to the cities method of controlling the stray population, stewed beef a la strychnine may remain on the menu for a while.

The Belize Humane Society says it has been trying to get land to build an animal shelter since September of 1998.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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