The Dog Problem

IMG_0430 There are an estimated 400 million FRDs worldwide (World Society for the Protection of
Animals), largely as a result of a lack of responsible ownership and accountability for animal
welfare by both owners and governments. In a nutshell, the absence of supporting policy to
protect and control animals, low cultural acceptance for traditional sterilization methods, lack
of education about dog husbandry, and a low priority for bringing about lasting change in dog
ownership and management in general, make population control planning highly complex.
As a result, FRDs face high mortality, malnutrition, starvation, disease and abuse, and account
for 99% of rabies transmission worldwide (World Health Organization, 2011). Communities
having high numbers of dogs in the streets often resort to inhumane approaches of population
control, such as poisoning, shooting, electrocution, drowning and starvation (Humane Society
International). Although none of these methods have ever demonstrated long-term positive
effects in terms of population reduction, many government officials and individuals use these
extreme methods of extermination simply because no other options are available or because
managers lack awareness, training and resources.

With the increasing global human population, new and unprecedented interface issues
between people, dogs and the environment are continually surfacing. According to a study
published by Dalla Villa et. al (2010), higher numbers of FRDs are directly associated with
human poverty: an unfortunate irony since responsible dog care, as well as community-scale
population control programs are both costly endeavours. The presence of these FRDs has grave
consequences on the entire human and domestic and wild animal communities, ranging from
the health and well-being of the dogs themselves, to the tens of thousands of people that die
every year from canine zoonoses such as rabies and hydatidosis, the effects on poverty as
roaming dogs attack small-holder farmers’ livestock, and conservation implications as
unvaccinated dogs transmit disease to susceptible wild carnivores or attack wildlife, some
species of which hover on the brink of extinction.


In North America, dog overpopulation continues to be a problem and millions of dogs are
euthanized in shelters every year. Although FRDs are seldom seen, the abandoned millions are
hidden behind the walls of animal shelters and dealt with through euthanasia. Fortunately,
cultural views toward pets in that part of the world have changed dramatically over the past 20
years; dogs are generally viewed as part of the family and are well cared for. There are enforced
laws against acts of animal abuse and neglect, and despite the large numbers of animals
euthanized, it is done in a humane manner. Although the numbers of abandoned dogs
euthanized every year remains unacceptably high and there is still much to be done, this
number has reduced dramatically in the last two decades.

In Latin America, the problem has a different face. The widespread acceptance of dogs as
sentient beings and part of the family does not yet exist on a broad scale. Municipalities
ultimately bear the responsibility for developing dog registration and confinement laws,
however, enforcement measures are unpopular with the voting public and therefore
counterproductive for officials seeking re-election. Where municipalities or animal protection
organizations opt for the shelter and re-homing model for mitigating the FRD problem, it often
ends in a public news scandal or closure and release of dogs as resources dwindle and
unvaccinated and poorly cared for dogs suffer disease outbreaks, starvation and other forms of
neglect and abuse.
In general, dogs are seen as utility animals rather than companions, and are used primarily forAugust 110
protection. The general public is poorly informed and educated about the definition of
responsible dog ownership; dogs are often left to search for their own food, they do not receive
preventive veterinary care, they are reproductively active and permitted to roam streets
unattended. Although they might technically have an owner, their survival is dependent on
their own skill and luck.
Although there are parallels between the two continents and many lessons to be learned from

North American models, it is becoming increasingly obvious that a model unique to Latin
America must be developed. In Italy, managers and researchers together are realizing that
elimination of the FRD may not be an appropriate goal but rather that acceptance of the FRD as
part of the culture and finding ways to mitigate the negative effects of having dogs in the
street, such as promoting community ownership and responsibility for the dogs may be a more
culturally appropriate means of management. In Latin America however, there are no
successful community models for management. Publicly funded sterilization campaigns are the
primary means of addressing the problem – and although these are important, they are
expensive for governments and do not address the root of the problem, which is the way in
which people in Latin America care for their dogs.

Recognizing that the solutions appropriate in North America may not be directly transferrable
to Latin America, our goal in Latin America is to explore different models for FRD management.
the GAAP’s initial steps were to begin understanding the cultural attitudes, perspectives and
behaviours of the local people surrounding the issue and to begin the long process of building
successful relationships with partners in our project countries – Chile and Guatemala. Although
programs in the two countries differ according to need, resources and cultural suitability, we
believe that any program must run multiple parallel streams rather than focus solely on one
strategy such as sterilization. We try to include activities in most or all of the following
categories: community outreach and education, training of local people, development and
enforcement of law and policy, sterilization, vaccination and health campaigns, identification
and registration of dogs, kennels where appropriate and feasible, and humane euthanasia
techniques as an aid to promoting animal welfare and research. To enhance sustainability, we
ensure that the communities we are working in are fully engaged in finding solutions that fit
into their cultural realities and we build monitoring and evaluation steps into all of our

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