Operation Snip

Operation SNIP, the Saga Five Year Plan:  The Solution to the Pet over Population Problem on Ambergris Caye, Belize.

The average potlicker is a free agent whether a street or community dog. He or she does not really belong to anyone in particular but rather is part of the fabric of our community. If you’re an average potlicker on Ambergris Caye, it most often means that no person accepts individual responsibility for you but everyone agrees you live in the neighborhood. Potlickers have distinct territories and rely on specific food sources.

Operation snip has been implemented by Saga Humane Society in attempts to limit and reduce the number of animals on the streets. In an ideal world every animal would have a home but this is not always an option. On this remote Island there are limited options for food and resources and many people have financial strain. Animal’s end up on the streets when they do not have the correct care takers or people that are ready for the commitment.

Ambergris Caye depends heavily on economic trade from tourism and tourists do not enjoy witnessing large numbers of malnourished or diseased street dogs and cats. Tourists are also against the culling of stray animals through the use of poison.  Residents, businesses and tourists also do not enjoy dogs defecating in street, getting into rubbish bins, constantly barking, uncontrolled breeding, chasing vehicles and bikes. Reducing access to resources, where people and authorities permit uncovered or uncollected rubbish bins, dumping of rubbish in the streets, animals will settle down, dogs, cats, rats, raccoons and others. And where there are dogs and cats in the streets, there will be animal lovers who feel sorry for them and feed them. This results in a vicious circle.

Experiences the world over have shown that certain management methods can, over a period of time, produce dramatic results in reductions in stray and roaming animal populations. These methods include spaying and neutering; registration and identification; education and informing the public. The only possible way to permanently reduce the total population of street animals is the use of a comprehensive pet population management program.

Any program has to be a combined effort between the San Pedro Town Council, San Pedro Police Department, Health Department, Saga Humane Society, San Pedro business community and the general public.

 Animals Population Management Methods

  • Controlling access to resources
  • Registration and identification
  • Education
  • Spay Neuter the majority (75-90%) of dog and cat population

Controlling access to resources

  • the regular removal of garbage from homes and public bins
  • the fencing-in of garbage collection and disposal sites
  • the use of animal-proof bins, such as those with heavy lids, or positioning them out of a dog’s reach
  • education or enforcement measures to stop people littering (and hence feeding dogs accidentally), and to stop people purposely feeding dogs in certain areas.

Belize Law Dog Act will be a ‘paper exercise’ unless it is enacted uniformly and enforced effectively. Effective enactment will usually require the majority of effort to be spent on education and incentives and the minority to be spent on carrying out punitive enforcement measures such as fines. Education about the laws has to be targeted at all levels, from law enforcement bodies (such as SPTC, SPPD and Health department) to relevant professionals (such as veterinarians, media and resort managers) and dog owners.

Registration and identification. This step involves the SPTC issuing of dog licenses, tattooing, or better still micro chipping, of dogs and cats and the subsequent registration of details on an easily accessible data bank. The owner would ideally they will have to pay a fine, unless the loss of the animal has been reported. Clearly enforcement of this regulation will require adequate community buy in order to be effective.

Education – Saga Humane Society will provide a range of educational materials such as information on the responsibilities of animal ownership, how to care for companion animals and the advantages of pet sterilization.

Saga Humane Society aims to help reduce the problems associated with community and street animals on Ambergris Caye by introducing a pet population management program, Operation SNIP (Spay Neuter Initiative Project).  To reduce the breeding populations and reduce the number of street animals, 75-90% of all dogs and cats on the island will need to be sterilized in a 3-5 year time frame to be effective.  Saga Humane Society has pledged to raise money to offer low cost or free spay/neuter, with a goal of 1,000 animals per year during this project. The primary objective of comprehensive management program should be to keep the population of dogs and cats in a particular area down to a level where there is no need to destroy healthy and friendly animals, but without accumulating them in a shelter.

Operation SNIP will be a high standard cat and dog sterilization campaign, targeting the low-income owners for free or low cost spay/neuter of owned pets brought to Saga HS Clinic.  Community or street animals will need to be sterilized in large numbers so that the populations are unable to reproduce and start to decline naturally.  SNIP will reach cats and dogs that will probably never see a vet in their lives.  The goal is a healthy population of cats and dogs who cannot reproduce.

Operation SNIP will continue to address the sector of the populations who have owners in low income areas, by target specific neighborhoods of San Pedrito, San Mateo, Boca del Rio, DFC and the San Pedro business core. SNIP team members will visit a neighborhoods to pass out educational material about responsible pet ownership, evaluate the neighborhood dogs’ health, transport to and from the Saga HS Clinic for treatment and recovery.   The animals will be sterilized, treated for internal and external parasites and vaccinated against disease. There are also behavioral benefits, such as reduced roaming in neutered males. They will be given a bright green Operation SNIP collar to identify the animals as having been treated under the program.

Cat Cafes will be encouraged in resort areas, where feral cat colonies can be controlled through this same concept. Resort personnel designate an area to feed cats at a certain time on a daily basis. The cats will be caught, sterilized, treated for internal and external parasites and vaccinated against disease. They will an ear “docked” for identification in program.  Tourists often enjoy viewing the cats during feeding time and find the concept agreeable. The cats are generally healthy in comparison to the strays observed on the streets. The hotel benefits by putting up a sign that states they are an animal friendly institution, which generates positive feedback from the guests. It prevents the cats from lingering at restaurant tables and keeps the rodent population numbers down.

Operation SNIP can essentially lead to a stable and healthy population of animals, if the sterilization rate is maintained at a high enough level. However, Operation SNIP alone will not address the stray animal problem in the long term while there is an owned population that is not accessible to the catching teams and so not being neutered. Hence Operation SNIP on its own will not lead to a significant reduction in population size. Operation SNIP instead should be seen as a temporary method that stabilizes the current stray population whilst the sources of stray animals are also addressed for the long-term.

Sterilization of owned animals prevents the problem of unwanted puppies and kittens that either end up at the Saga Shelter or may become part of the stray population. Saga Humane Society will set up a program at veterinary clinic that offers free or reduced price spay/neuter and veterinary services to owners can be a very practical way of helping owners that couldn’t otherwise afford to treat or sterilize their animals.

Est. Population              Animals sterilized to reach 75% Goal

Dogs           5,056                              3792

Cats            5,704                              4278

Why Should YOU Help?

High numbers of in-tact dogs and cats cause a myriad of problems for the community and the animals can suffer greatly as a result. By sterilizing them we will:

  • Reduce the spread of any zoonotic diseases (from animal to human)
  • Reduce the spread and increase of diseases amongst the animals
  • Reduce the number of road accidents associated with large numbers of free roaming animals
  • Reduce the number of bites and scratches incurred
  • Reduce the number of free roaming dogs and cats that you see on the streets who are suffering from injury and disease
  • Reduce the noise, pack fighting and disruption at night when males are chasing females in heat
  • Reduce the roaming distances of male dogs as the females will not be coming into heat
  • Help people to take better care of their pets
  • Increase the degree of veterinary care that the animals receive
  • Increase the health of the cat, dog and human populations
  • Create a more harmonious existence for all