Stray dogs lounge in Mosquera. (Chris Kraul / Los Angeles…)
Reporting from Mosquera, Colombia — Listening to yet another constituent complain about the thousands of neglected, scruffy mutts that prowl the streets of his town, Mosquera Mayor Luis Alvaro Rincon went ballistic. "A street dog," he ground out, "is a dead dog."
His fist pumping and voice rising as applause at the community gathering grew, he said, "It's an order. Round them up and kill them!"
Rincon's exasperation last summer was in some ways understandable. This suburb of Bogota has long been a dumping ground for canines whose owners are too uninterested or financially strapped to care for them. Now there may be 30,000 stray dogs here and in two adjoining suburbs, Madrid and Vaca.
"I know environmentalists won't like it, but if they don't, they should come to Mosquera and take a dog home with them," Rincon said.
Driving around the Porvenir Rio barrio, one gets the impression that there are more dogs than people. They seem to be everywhere: foraging for food, lounging in the shade or sauntering across streets and alleys.
Animal control has been a foreign concept in Mosquera, a city of 90,000 with no dog pound. One of Colombia's fastest-growing municipalities, Mosquera in recent years has had more pressing budgetary needs, including building a new hospital and roads and buying uniforms and lunches for the growing numbers of poor schoolchildren, the city's health officer, Paola Linares, said in an interview.
As the stray dog population has grown, so has the health and safety crisis. The level of fecal dust is alarming, and rising, and 89 dog bites were reported last year, a 27% increase from 2008. "We had more cases of dog bites than measles last year," Linares said.
Rincon's outburst sparked little outcry at first. But in October, an animal rights activist put the video of Rincon's speech on YouTube. That led to hundreds of angry phone calls and e-mails to City Hall from animal rights groups.
"This kind of discourse contributes to a disrespect for life in Colombia. Is it that much of a leap from mass murder of animals to that of humans?" said Albeiro Ulloa, an animal rights organizer in Bogota.
Protests were capped by a march here last month of 300 animal rights defenders, who were confronted by an equal-sized crowd of Rincon's defenders.
Subsequently, tempers cooled and both sides agreed to work on a happy, or at least more humane, resolution of Mosquera's canine crisis. Rincon retracted his "capture and kill" order and agreed to join a task force with animal rights leaders aimed at raising private funds to build a regional dog pound.
The panel also will try to change laws to restrict the sale of dogs and enforce vaccination laws.
"We have an imbalance in that there are too many dogs," said Ivan Duque, a veterinarian who is advising the task force. "But it's not the dogs' problem, it's ours, the human beings. We are the rational ones."
Kraul is a special correspondent.