Dog and Cat Welfare

Humane Society International

HSI veterinarian with puppy
Alex Rothlisberger/HSI

The situation for dogs and cats varies from culture to culture. In some places, they are treated well, given scraps, even considered as part of a family, though they may still roam the neighborhood and remain outdoors. Sometimes they serve to guard property or control pests, but would be unlikely to receive veterinary care or concern for their welfare. In other communities, they are disliked, or even feared, and may be kicked, hit or stoned if they come too near.


An increase in a community’s population of roaming animals is both an animal welfare and public health and safety problem. Animals on the streets often face starvation, abuse or suffer in other ways. Dogs are responsible for most cases of rabies transmission to humans and both dogs and cats can spread a host of other diseases. Anywhere dogs and people co-exist, particularly in densely packed urban areas, there is the risk of dog bites and road accidents caused by roaming animals. There is also an economic toll, such as expensive human rabies post-exposure treatment and negative consequences for tourism. Governments, whose duty is to safeguard public health and safety, often lack the resources and/or knowledge to develop and implement humane and effective programs to manage dog and cat populations, and to tackle the public health issues that may result from having roaming dogs in a community. The lack of information and resources has led many governments to resort to cruel and ineffective means of population control, such as mass sheltering, poisoning, electrocution and shooting.

Another major challenge to adequate dog and cat welfare is a lack of training opportunities for veterinarians to develop skills in high-quality spay/neuter surgery.

In addition to not having access to affordable and accessible veterinary services, families and individuals may lack an understanding of the welfare needs of pets and roaming animals in their community. Adoption of homeless dogs and cats is still a relatively new concept in many countries. And, unfortunately, even in places where adoption is common, there are too many litters born to keep up with the number of homes available.

As a result of varying political, cultural, economic and geographic factors that affect a country’s animal welfare situation, there is no single solution to human-animal conflict and animal suffering that can be applied universally.

Animal management

For the sake of public health and safety and the quality of life in a community, local governments must provide animal control services. It is up to city and national governments to provide mechanisms to resolve conflicts that will protect both people and animals.

An animal management program should perform several functions. It should:

  • Enforce laws
  • Rescue mistreated animals
  • Humanely euthanize animals received who are not reclaimed by their families or adopted, or who are suffering and untreatable
  • Deter future problems through community engagement and public education
  • Encourage adoption through the creation of adoption programs
  • Build a collaboration with local veterinarians to provide affordable and accessible spay/neuter and vaccination services
  • Engage communities and create awareness on dog and cat welfare needs, focusing on the animal and the health of its family

Our work

HSI veterinary training and spay/neuter clinic
Alex Rothlisberger/HSI

Over the past 25 years, Humane Society International has been developing culturally sensitive approaches to manage roaming dogs, and to some extent, cats, humanely, effectively and sustainably. We work in a number of countries in Asia, Africa and North, Central and South America to extend a philosophy of humane animal management, providing guidance to governments at all levels, to local organizations, universities, veterinarians and communities on ways to address the root causes of animal-human conflict.

The goals of our dog and cat welfare programs are to:

  • Reduce the roaming animal population worldwide while improving their welfare
  • Promote humane treatment of roaming dogs; in particular, end the use of inhumane and lethal management techniques
  • Strengthen and support the capacity of local veterinary services to address dog and cat population management and welfare
  • Encourage positive human-dog interactions by fostering community engagement efforts to change human behavior and attitudes towards community and family animals
  • Establish sustainable programs that local institutions ultimately adopt as their own

To achieve these goals, HSI advocates a humane and tailored solution that includes monitoring and evaluation; sterilization; vaccination; community engagement; education, advocacy, legislation; and well-run temporary holding facilities and adoption programs.

Together, these components provide the only scientific, effective and humane approach to improve the dog and cat welfare in the long term.

Ways we help

The specifics of what we do are tailored to a location’s unique situation. The broad outline of our approach, after an initial assessment of needs has been completed, may include:

  • Conducting outreach and establishing partnerships with municipalities, national authorities and local animal welfare/protection organizations
  • Implementing monitoring and evaluation to establish baselines and assess impact
  • Initiating or expanding existing sterilization programs
  • Initiating or expanding existing rabies eradication programs
  • Providing training for local veterinarians and dog-handling personnel to emphasize high-quality, high-volume, safe sterilization surgery and humane dog catching
  • Empowering communities to be more engaged in understanding and caring for the welfare needs of the dogs and cats in their neighborhoods
  • Encouraging a culture of adoption
  • Intervening when governments take inhumane action against roaming animals
  • Assisting with the development of a successful program and a planned and sustainable transition to local stakeholders

Other ways HSI helps dogs and cats

boy with puppy in Bolivia
Alex Rothlisberger/HSI

HSI assists governments in disaster preparedness and provides relief to all animals, including dogs and cats, after disasters occur. We assist in the passage of laws and regulations to protect these animals. We also campaign against the dog and cat meat trade in parts of Asia. Our reach extends beyond the countries in which we have hands-on programs. HSI’s Veterinary Training Program works with governments, universities and independent veterinarians to strengthen skills in high-quality spay/neuter surgery. HSI offers guidance as well as technical and other forms of support–including sponsorship of veterinary internships, and scholarships to attend our annual networking and training event Animal Care Expo–to local organizations and governments worldwide.