Street Animal Welfare

Humane Society International

  • There are too many for the number of homes available. Roman Sigaev/istock

The situation for street animals varies from culture to culture. In some places, they are treated well, given scraps, even identified as “belonging to” someone, though the definition of “ownership” can be loose and they may still roam the neighborhood, sleeping outside.

Sometimes they provide a service as watchdogs, but would never be pampered as beloved family pets. In some countries, people dislike or even fear them; they are typically thin and hungry and may be kicked, hit or stoned if they come too near. There may be religious components to people’s actions—in some faiths, dogs are viewed as dirty—or recent circumstances, for example a rabies outbreak in the news, may impact the animals’ fate.

Adoption of homeless pets is still a relatively new concept in many developing countries. And unfortunately, even in places where adoption is common, there are far too many litters born each year to keep up with the number of homes available.


Overpopulation of street dogs (and cats) has been an issue that societies have dealt with in a variety of ways, many inhumane. The welfare of the animals has rarely been considered, and as a result, campaigns of poisoning, shooting, electrocution, drowning, starvation and other cruel methods have been used to “dispose” of unwanted animals. Such activities are not only brutal; they are ineffective because, although they may serve as methods for “immediate”results, they are not long-term solutions.

Our work

Humane Society International has been working in a number of countries to extend a humane philosophy of animal control, providing expertise and guidance to create programs that focus on sterilization and vaccination against zoonotic disease. With the help of HSI, determined local organizations have implemented spay and neuter programs all over the world to humanely address the overpopulation of street dogs and cats. A variety of methods of capture and control are used, but consideration of the welfare of the animal is always a priority.

A strong educational component is central to our work, and HSI offers training in proper surgical skills to allow veterinarians to successfully and humanely perform spay and neuter procedures. We have developed training teams and clinics worldwide that offer hands-on surgical opportunities for any interested vets from the developing world. We educate the public about the importance of spay/neuter, rabies prevention and humane treatment of animals, and each year we encourage local organizations to take part in international Spay Day events.

We also believe that rabies vaccination is an essential part of all sterilization programs if we are to end the spread of this deadly virus and in turn, the needless suffering of street animals. Human health concerns are a focus not only for their own sake, but as major motivation for governments to deal effectively with street animal overpopulation issues.

Finally, we also try to intervene when governments take action against street animals. For example, letters from HSI and our supporters have helped stop street dog culls in Ethiopia and China. We work with governments to demonstrate that catch-neuter-vaccinate-return (CNVR) is a better method of animal control than mass killing.

Animal control

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 county governments to provide mechanisms to resolve conflicts that will protect both people and animals.

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

  • Enforce laws
  • Rescue mistreated animals
  • Humanely euthanize animals received who are not reclaimed by their owners or adopted, or who are suffering and untreatable,
  • Promote licensing of both cats and dogs
  • Provide a low-cost spay/neuter program that enables all residents to sterilize their pets
  • Deter future problems through public education

The most successful programs integrate three basic components: legislation, education, and sterilization (LES). Animal shelters, both public and private, that follow this formula have reported a significant decrease in the number of animals they handle after a few years of program operation.

Ways we help

  • CNVR on the ground
  • Vet training
  • Vaccination, de-worming and other veterinary care
  • Public education
  • Encouraging a culture of adoption
  • Helping local animal welfare groups and shelters with advice and funding
  • Working with local and national governments
  • Partnering with local groups to offer spay/neuter clinics
  • Presenting World Spay Day annually
  • Helping street and companion animals after disasters
  • Helping pass laws and regulations to protect street animals

A transferable model

We work on projects keeping in mind the existing local conditions and understand that our model needs to be molded as “transferable” so that it can be sustained. The typical components of a program include:

  • Census (owned/roaming dog populations)
  • Creation of a project document
  • Training on capture, surgery, and stations such as prep, anesthesia, nurse table, autoclaving, etc
  • Post-operative management
  • Record-keeping and research-oriented projects

Based on the these, we can export our “model” to any locations with a few modifications as required. We may either send in our experts to spend time “in situ,” or call for parties interested in our existing projects, whichever best suits the circumstances.