The Global Stray Dog Population Crisis
By: Patti Strand Date: 11/17/2011 Category: | Animal Welfare | Canine Issues |
The scope of the stray dog problem in many parts of the world is unimaginable by American standards. Street and village dogs have always been part of the developing world’s landscape, but exploding populations, increasing attacks on citizens,1 and spiraling rabies epidemics have transformed this issue from a third world problem to a global public health priority.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there are more than 200 million stray dogs worldwide and that every year, 55,000 people die from rabies, while another 15 million receive post exposure treatment to avert the deadly disease. 95% of these cases occur in Asia and Africa, and 99% of the fatalities are caused by dogs.2
In Bali alone, the number of stray dogs is estimated at 500,000 and a rabies epidemic underway since 2008 has already killed 78 people. Despite culling somewhere between 120,000 and 200,000 dogs, and vaccinating an estimated 262,000 dogs, the epidemic rages on. In the face of the continuing epidemic and shortages of human anti-rabies vaccines, the government has banned dogs from the streets altogether -- perhaps the first at-large law imposed in this part of the world.3 4
The stray dog-driven rabies crisis in Bali is hardly unique: India culls as many as 100,000 strays at a time,5 while attacks by marauding packs of dogs in Baghdad have led to a reinstitution of the same eradication program that was operated under Saddam Hussein. Its goal: the culling of over one million stray dogs.6 7 8
In Bangkok9 and many other Asian and African locales,10 11 living with strays and rabies is just an accepted fact of life. An estimated 200 dogs per square kilometer occupy Bangkok, fouling sidewalks and streets, causing traffic accidents and serving as vectors for rabies and other diseases.12 A nip on the ankle by a stray dog in any of these developing countries quickly jolts Western tourists into the life and death reality of the situation.13
Thankfully the stray dog overpopulation crisis has earned the attention of Western humanitarians, animal welfare organizations and businesses, and they’re rallying to the cause. The World Health Organization is working aggressively, often partnering with Non Government Organizations (NGO’s), to assure that the production and distribution of rabies vaccines and post-exposure treatment keeps up with demand.
One of the most effective NGO’s working on the stray dog issue in the developing world is a group of veterinarians and volunteers called Veterinarians Without Borders.14 They can be found in many of the poorest countries of the world helping impoverished communities develop safe and healthy food supplies and eliminating some of the most dangerous diseases. Neutering and vaccinating stray dogs against rabies is an important part of their work today.
At the same time, animal shelters and dog rescue groups are springing up throughout Asia, Eurasia, the Middle East, parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. Some jurisdictions, notably Shanghai and Singapore15 have built pounds to hold strays, while in other locales, private citizens have formed humane societies and loose-knit groups of volunteers to care for rescued dogs.
These are all good signs. But when Western activists contemplate solutions for the stray dog crisis in the developing world, they need to keep in mind the differences between third world problems and the ones we’ve experienced here. Pet ownership is less common in developing countries; third world strays are seldom dogs that simply wandered off an owner’s property. Instead, they are often semi-feral dogs living at the outskirts of human communities, eking out an existence by feeding on human garbage.
So vast are the differences between the developing world and the US today, one must reach back to images of American cities in the 1800’s for comparison: an age when horses were still the primary mode of transportation, when domestic animals of all species often ran free, and garbage collection hadn’t yet begun.
The eradication measures employed by third world countries -- poisoning and shooting strays -- spark sensational headlines and searing criticism in the West, but where people are still struggling to provide food and shelter for their families; where canine rabies is an epidemic, and where there are shortages of rabies vaccine and post exposure treatment, animal control is still a matter of human survival. 16
Bringing the Problem Home
Starting with many of the same eradication measures currently being employed in third world countries, it took the US nearly a century and a half to get its surplus dog problem under control; indeed, it has only been during the last 10 years that the demand for dogs has become equal to or greater than the supply in many parts of the country. In fact, what the US has today is a dog distribution problem, not a dog overpopulation problem -- a situation that has led to a practice labeled humane relocation.17
In some parts of the USA today, demand for dogs so far outstrips supply that the public -- bolstered by state-of-the-art advertising campaigns for rescued dogs -- are willing, even anxious, to adopt dogs with severe behavioral and medical problems. Where healthy, well-tempered, adoptable dogs were once euthanized by the millions for lack of shelter space, Americans today are lining up to pay large sums of money to adopt problem dogs; ones that are blind, deaf, missing limbs or suffer from serious behavioral issues or chronic diseases. Organizations that began their work when there was still a serious surplus dog problem in the US are now bringing in dogs from any place they can find them and asking their kind-hearted donors to fund costly surgeries to correct heart defects and other problems so that the dogs they’ve rescued can be saved.18
Other groups import maimed dogs for adoption into the US from great distances, even foreign countries where street dogs are plentiful.19
A recent shipment of 222 dogs from Puerto Rico illustrates how multi-faceted, ill-conceived and widespread the practice of importing street dogs into mainland USA has become.20 Although dogs are regularly shipped into the Northeastern states from Puerto Rico, this particular shipment, arranged by the Puerto Rico Animal Welfare Society, was motivated by the opportunity to win a $100,000 grant. The ASPCA offered the prize to the organization with the largest adoption participation in an event called Second Chance for Love adopt-a-thon. The dogs involved in this venture were headed to one of the many participating pet supply stores that use rescue dogs as a loss leader to attract shoppers. After being airlifted to Florida for a layover, though, more than 100 of the dogs broke with parvovirus and distemper, 107 of them eventually dying. As it turned out, many of the dogs in the shipment were infested with hook worms, round worms and coccidia, and although the dogs were supposed to be 4 months old and healthy to participate in the contest, some were only 4 weeks old and shockingly, had already been altered. None of these dogs ever made it out of Florida. Instead, they remained there and received veterinary treatments valued at $185,000 and were adopted out through local shelters.
Canine strain rabies in indigenous US dogs was officially pronounced eradicated in 2006 by the Centers for Disease Control, but since then a number of rabid dogs have been imported, nearly all rescue dogs from countries with ongoing rabies epidemics. These dogs have come from a variety of locales including Puerto Rico, Thailand, India, and others described in official CDC publications.21
The rescue programs engaged in this practice have very appealing names that sound like they were created by advertising professionals, Operation Baghdad Pups for example. Perhaps the positive image confuses the issue and blunts the outrage these totally irresponsible practice should evoke. Indeed, this group has continued shipping dogs to the United States and following the shipment after issuing a press releases saying that they hope the rabid puppy doesn’t tarnish its image22
Pretending that rescuing dogs from developing countries with ongoing rabies epidemics is helping solve problems is not only short-sighted, it’s dangerous. At best it represents a shallow form of sentimentality, not true kindness. At worst, importing street dogs is a cynical form of old fashioned greed on the part of the organizations and businesses that are trading in them. Judging by their IRS 990 forms, the shelters importing these dogs are making a handsome profit on them, retaining their traditional image as shelters and marketing their product as unregulated pet stores.
To actually improve animal welfare, NAIA recommends that rescuers put their resources into developing low cost spay-neuter and vaccination programs at the source of the problems instead of rescuing and sending street dogs to the US. If advertisements on the websites of Puerto Rican rescue groups aren’t stretching the truth, they’re spending as much as $1,800 to rehabilitate one street dog, more money than the average Puerto Rican household makes in one month.23 There’s something wrong with this picture.
Additionally, one of the reasons that the import problem is mushrooming in the US is because our federal laws governing the import of dogs are out of date. NAIA continues to urge our lawmakers and administrators to strengthen these laws immediately.24 Otherwise a preventable tragedy will occur. The incubation period for rabies is variable and can be quite lengthy, and the laws and quarantine requirements are not sufficient to prevent exposure. With large numbers of imported dogs from rabies endemic areas entering the US pet trade, weak federal import laws, and state and local laws that specifically exempt the traffickers from regulation because they are supposed to be operating as humane shelters, the public Is vulnerable to this irresponsible activity.
Finally, it is sad that stray dogs ever have to be killed, but to attempt to apply American no-kill philosophy to parts of the world where dogs are suffering as well as threatening human life is unrealistic and harmful. We recommend to the reader, the words of Mahatma Ghandi on the subject:
“A roving dog without an owner is a danger to society and a swarm of them is a menace to its very existence... If we want to keep dogs in towns or villages in a decent manner no dog should be suffered to wander. There should be no stray dogs even as we have no stray cattle... But can we take individual charge of these roving dogs? Can we have a pinjrapole for them? If both these things are impossible then there seems to me no alternative except to kill them... it is an insult to the starving dog to throw a crumb at him. Roving dogs do not indicate compassion and civilization in society; they betray instead the ignorance and lethargy of its members... that means we should keep them and treat them with respect as we do our companions and not allow them to roam about.” -- quoted from www.Karmayog.com
Table 1: A short list of foreign organizations that export rescue dogs and US Shelters and Rescues
|The All Sato Rescue, www.allsatorescue.org and blog http://streetdogblog.com Puerto Rican Street dog rescue. Scroll to the video on blog about the Puerto Rican dog rescue;||
Humane Society of Broward County, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a shelter that accepts dogs for adoption from Puerto Rico;
|Golden Retriever Club of Greater Los Angeles Rescue, http://www.grcglarescue.org, a US rescue that imports dogs from Taiwan for adoption in the US.||
Danbury Animal Welfare Society (DAWS), www.daws.org, Danbury, CT, a US shelter that accepts dogs for adoption from Puerto Rico;
Thailand's Soi Cats and Dogs Bangkok, http://www.scadbangkok.org/adoption/
adoption-faqs.php Thailand dog and cat rescue that ships dogs to the US.
|Pet Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), www.pawsct.org/index.php, Norwalk, CT, a US shelter that accepts dogs for adoption from Puerto Rico.|
|Independent Labrador Retriever Rescue of Socal, California, http://www.indilabrescue.org, a California Labrador Retriever Rescue that rescues and places dogs imported from Taiwan.||
Northeast Animal Shelter , www.northeastanimalshelter.org
Salem, Massachusetts, a US shelter that accepts dogs for adoption from Puerto Rico.
Tail Tails Beagle Rescue and Blog http://thebark.com/print/2909?page=show
Falmouth, Maine , a rescue that imports dogs from Puerto Rico.
Sterling Animal Shelter, www.sterlingshelter.org ,
Sterling, Massachusetts, a US shelter that accepts dogs for adoption from Puerto Rico;
 http://www.prdailysun.com/?page=news.article&id=1286246678 (Ed. note: the Puerto Rico Daily Sun appears to be defunct. Click below for a link to a saved copy of the article in PDF form)
Life-lift for dogs is fatal, 100+ die
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