Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Town Dog Adopted

“Village dog” is a term usually used to describe unowned but welcomed canines living around human communities in, for example, southeast Asia. Now from Oxford in Mississippi we have the new version of “town dog”. This is the story (here) of a stray dog that lived on the town’s streets for several years before finally getting adopted as a pet.
Two things seemed to surprise the dog’s new owner. One was that "Other than 10 ticks I pulled off of him, he's in better shape than most dogs his age”. The other was that once he posted pictures of the dog on his Facebook page he realised just how many people had interacted with the animal. He said, "It seems he was very popular around town".
Given the community care that he had clearly been receiving and his apparently quite healthy lifestyle, why are we so convinced that what this dog “needed was a good home”? In the north American context with cold winters and no “village dog” culture it is probably the right thing to happen but the description of this dog’s life pre-adoption seems to be one of people feeling unnecessarily sorry for him.

I’m certainly not criticising the adopter but, for me, a happier end to the story would have been if people had realised the value of having a shared “town dog”, allowed the dog to continue its unowned lifestyle and collectively organised the animal’s care if and when he needed it.

Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

Bangkok Governor Candidates and Stray Dogs

With the Bangkok Governor election just a few weeks away, the candidates are all busy outlining their policies and making lots of promises. One key issue in the city is the stray dogs, which according to the chairman of the Foundation for Stray Dogs (FSD) have now reached over 700,000.

Several of the main candidates recently outlined how they would tackle the problem at a seminar organised by FSD. The report I saw (here) is very brief but all the prospective Governors talked about the need for more shelters with each of them adding their own twist, such as “the smart ones could be trained to work as guide dogs for blind people”.

According to the report only one candidate hinted at the root cause of the problem by saying that he “would encourage dog owners to take good care of their pets and not abandon them”. This abandonment of pets and unsold puppies is the major source of Bangkok’s street dogs rather than breeding on the streets, and it’s a little disappointing that it wasn’t given greater emphasis by the candidates (although perhaps not surprising as they wouldn’t want to appear critical of dog owners).

One candidate talked about “finding new homes for them, with the help of civil society” in order to save the state funds used in shelters. I’m not entirely sure what he has in mind but to me this is exactly what happens to most of the dogs anyway. There are thousands of people in the city who take it upon themselves to care for and feed the dogs in the traditional Thai manner, in return gaining companionship, gratitude and a communal security alert.

With such vague policies and apparent lack of clear understanding of the problem I suspect that whoever ends up as the next Governor of Bangkok the abandonment of dogs will continue and the stray dog population will carry on increasing. 

Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New Animal Protection Laws in Mexico

Mexico City has just passed a new animal-protection law whereby anybody abusing a domestic animal or wildlife in Mexico City will face a fine of up to $3,000 and, for the first time, a jail sentence of up to four years (see report here). It also specifies that abandoned dogs and other pets cannot be considered “pests” and mistreated as they have been in the past. Currently, the estimated 120,000 street dogs in the city suffer widespread abuse.
Unfortunately, the law does not appear to class abandonment as cruelty so the root cause of the street dogs and their suffering is likely to continue as before. There is also doubt as to how well the new law will be enforced considering the lax enforcement of other existing laws in the city.
However, this is clearly a positive move from the legislators particularly given the recent events of dogs living in a Mexico City park apparently mauling to death five people in three separate incidents (see my earlier post here). The temptation must have been to put this new law on hold but perhaps the strength of feeling to protect the dogs trapped after those human deaths showed the majority’s compassionate view.
I believe that this law is an important step forward not only for the dogs’ sake but also for the human residents. Cruel treatment from people produces aggressive street dogs, and this effect might have played a role in the recent tragic events, so if these laws could be well-enforced then there is a chance of reducing conflict between dogs and people and thereby improving life for both.

Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

Friday, February 1, 2013

What Would Dogs Choose?

Here is a blog post by Christine Hibbard reporting on a lecture given by the dog researcher Ray Coppinger who has studied unowned dogs around the world for many years. As the originator of the theory that wolves effectively domesticated themselves by becoming scavengers around human groups he has a lot of interesting things to say and this blog gives some good highlights.

I would just like to post one quote from it here:

“…if your dog could choose between remaining intact and living a life in the Mexico City dump consisting of foraging, procreating, playing and living an unrestricted life or living in the luxurious prisons we call our homes, they’d probably pick the dump.”

That, I’m sure, is quite insulting to the great many pet owners who provide their own pet with a wonderfully secure, loving and healthy life. Personally, I am sure that any dog that has grown up as a pet in such a household would choose to stay where it is if it could be asked.

However, I would like to encourage pet owners to honestly consider which lifestyle is actually better for a dog. Surely being well-fed and healthy only fulfills part of an animal’s innate needs. And are we not fooling ourselves if we think social interaction with people can replace social interaction with other dogs? How many of us would choose being a well-provided for prisoner rather than have a more-risky but stimulating life on the outside world? Many people enjoy work and many working dogs clearly enjoy the work they do, so is having to scavenge (=forage) for a living such a bad thing?

“Prisoner” is a strong and provocative word, and I certainly do not advocate the “release” of pet dogs in the sense of them getting abandoned to the streets which would be cruel and irresponsible. However, I do believe that most pet dog owners could improve their pet’s quality of life by seriously looking at what is lacking from the dog’s point of view, and that contemplating a dog’s life on the streets/around the village/at the dump can hold some very good clues.

Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Street Dog Population Control Case Study

For anybody interested in getting a better understanding of the street dog issue in developing countries I thoroughly recommend the following on-line document published by the British Veterinary Association Overseas Group:

It is an academic case study (focused on the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Programme in Jaipur, India) but easy to read. Here are some cherry-picked highlights from it:

“In Britain we tend to neatly categorize dogs as either 'pets' or 'stray' depending on their ownership status. This classification is oversimplified and inappropriate for many urban areas in 'developing' countries.”

“[pet ownership] is a relatively new but growing concept in Jaipur.”

“The most useful development of the [ABC] programme would probably come from greater community involvement...”

“…research suggests that domesticated dogs cause more and more serious bite injuries than feral dogs…”

“…there is a danger of following the western model of pet ownership, assuming this is the 'right way', that dogs should live only as pets and completely on human terms.”

“…elimination of street dogs ignores the role they may be playing as companions to the poorest members of the community who are unable to keep dogs as pets, providing them with protection, warmth and companionship.”

“The short to medium term aims of the [ABC] programme are to create a stable, friendlier, healthier street dog population. However, the city society is changing and there needs to be public debate about the longer term aims of the programme - whether the Western model of pet ownership should really be promoted or whether a different model, with dogs remaining a general society responsibility, is advocated.”

This is the first time I have seen Western involvement in a street dog ABC programme question their assumptions and ultimate aims. ABC programmes can and do improve street dog welfare but there are too many Western-run programmes based on the wrong assumption that all street dogs are stray.

And bear in mind that this case study is focused on the urban environment in developing countries and does not touch on the rural situation in those countries that can probably teach us a lot about why things can break down so badly in urban settings.

The one major omission from this study as far as I can see is the role of pet dog abandonment in the “overpopulation” of street dogs. My view is that the importance of solving this part of the problem is very under-rated.

Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

War Against Moscow’s Stray Dogs

Moscow’s vigilante “dog hunters” who have killed an estimated 1,500 stray dogs around the city’s parks in recent years have escalated their fight against the animals by openly organising a “massive culling” event (reported here, for example).

Typically, they use poisoned bait, which has also caused the deaths of several pet dogs, and use the internet to exchange stories and tactics plus post photographs of the dead dogs and links to news stories of their activities from around the world.

The boldness of this latest move is quite shocking with apparently no attempt to conceal the intention or meeting place, although, this does perhaps suggest that it is a publicity stunt rather than a real intention. Animal rights groups have organised counter protests whilst police say they will be present in order to “prevent cases of cruelty to animals”. 

As far as I understand, the “event” was due to take place last Friday (25th) but I have seen no reports yet as to what, if anything, actually happened.
Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)