A widespread, government-sanctioned cull of thousands of stray dogs is taking place in Romania. However, mass killing as a strategy of dog population control is inhumane and ineffective. Instead, we propose that a sterilization and vaccination program will be a better way to create a more harmonious environment for both the people and dogs of Romania.
Q: Why won’t mass killing solve Romania’s problem with stray dogs?
A: Street dog eradication (culling) programs have been instituted countless times in countries across the world. The lack of success of such an approach can be deduced from the fact that there are now 300 million or more street dogs living in towns and communities around the globe. The World Health Organization states, “There is no evidence that removal of dogs alone has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities or the spread of rabies.”
Q: Which countries with large numbers of stray dogs have handled the issue in an efficient and humane manner?
A: Humane Society International has developed a high-volume sterilization program and is working with governments in Panama, Bhutan, Philippines, India and Mauritius to address street dog populations.
In Bhutan, more than 50,000 dogs (80 percent of the street dog population) have been sterilized and vaccinated against rabies. The Royal Government of Bhutan has trained a new cadre of veterinarians to continue to maintain this high rate of street dog sterilization and is very pleased with changes in dog-human interaction (i.e. the night-time barking has been dramatically reduced, and tourists can now enjoy an undisturbed sleep).
The municipality of Chennai (Madras), India, long struggled with its street dog population. The municipality’s practice of catching and killing street dogs saw up to 135 dogs a day captured and killed—without much noticeable impact on the street dog population. In 1995, the municipality agreed to try a sterilization program. By 2000, authorities recorded 17 human rabies deaths, down from 120 deaths in 1996. In 2008, there were no human deaths from rabies in Chennai, and that progress continues to this day. In Jaipur, a popular international tourist destination, a similar program has also ended human deaths from rabies.
Q: How does spay/neuter help to manage dog populations?
A: When effectively delivered, spay/neuter provides officials with a non-lethal way to cope with large numbers of dogs, reduces the number of dogs living on the streets, and improves the health of those remaining. Sterilizing street dogs and returning them to their territories on the streets allows for a natural reduction in their population over time and leaves the most socialized dogs on the streets. We have found that the public views these sterilized and vaccinated dogs (identifiable via an ear notch) more favorably and the human-dog interaction improves (e.g. the number of dog bites declines dramatically—by more than two-thirds in Jaipur, for example).
Q: Isn’t the killing of stray dogs a quick and inexpensive solution?
A: The killing of street dogs is often brutal and causes a great deal of suffering. It is also not particularly cheap and, as the WHO statement above indicates, is not effective. The remaining dogs are usually more elusive and they engage in what is known as “compensatory breeding,” larger litters and higher puppy survival, and the population of stray dogs continues. Diverting the funds meant for a killing program to a strategic and sustainable long-term program involving sterilization and vaccination is more effective. Such a program may require more funding initially, but it is an investment that produces increased public safety, fewer street dogs and more livable communities.
Q: Will a sterilized dog bite?
A: A sterilized dog may bite. However, data that we have been collecting from across the world indicate that sterilized dogs are far less likely to bite. Breeding behavior, which is a big cause of bites and dog aggression, is eliminated in sterilized dogs. Municipalities should also focus on developing programs that discourage people from keeping aggressive dogs. The City of Calgary, Canada, has developed one of the most successful approaches for dealing with aggressive dog incidents and has among the lowest rates of such incidents in the world (see www.calgary.ca/animalservices). In Jaipur, India, where we have been supporting the dog sterilization program for about 15 years, the number of bites has dropped from 700 to under 200 per 100,000 people. We believe this is a result of the sterilization program.
Q: What is HSI doing to help the situation in Romania?
A: HSI wrote to Romanian government officials with an offer of assistance in developing a dog population management program that would be both effective and humane. Currently we are working with partner groups in Europe to develop a strategy for engaging the Romanian government further on the issue. Support our Street Dog Welfare initiative.