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August 20, 2014: Stray dog attacks: who's to blame?

Originally posted on this blog.

I just read a report about a stray dog that attacked a family in Mexico. As is often the case in these types of situations, the dog was later found and killed. In some countries with high populations of homeless dogs (Ukraine, Bulgaria and Romania come to mind), attacks such as this one have led to calls to quickly solve the problem by any means necessary. Unfortunately, at least in the countries mentioned above, this "quick fix" often involves anger-motivated revenge killings of strays, sometimes en masse.

The way a society treats its animals says a lot about how advanced that society is. Before blaming stray animals, there are a couple of things to keep in mind: First and foremost, we are responsible for the problem of stray animals, and we, collectively, have to deal with this problem in a humane way. There are two main factors that contribute to the high number of strays. The first reason is the abandonment of dogs that are no longer wanted. Many societies where stray dogs (or cats) are a problem are the same ones where people often just dump their pets after they stop being cute, or they get sick of them, etc. As long as people are not taught from an early age to see pets as sentient beings, and to care for them like they would a family member, homeless animals will be a problem. The second reason involves the lack of spay and neutering programs involving strays. Most people who have dealt with homeless pets around the world would agree that a good spay and neuter (or treat and release) program is an effective way to lower the numbers of stray animals.

So, education and spaying and neutering are the way to go. We can do this in our own families, by educating our children to respect and to help homeless pets, and we can demand the creation of government programs that do this on a larger scale. Culling (killing) strays en masse is a poor solution for several reasons. First, it is just plain wrong to kill innocent sentient beings. Second, most strays are not dangerous, and it is only a minority that become overly aggressive. The majority live a sad, lonely life on the streets of cities whose citizens are desensitized to their suffering, and do nothing to help them. I don't think I have to tell you how punishing the majority for the actions of a small minority is a horrible idea. Third, without the long term solutions I've outlined above, any mass killing will only solve the problem temporarily. Until people are taught to respect the lives of their pets, and to be responsible for them (including spaying and neutering them), the problem will resurface over and over again. Government officials often state that there is no money for programs such as this, but this is only because they fail to see the importance of this and to make it a priority.

So, again, do not blame the strays. Blame the heartless individuals that have created the problem by failing to take responsibility they had for these animals. Blame the government for failing to create spay and neuter programs that have been shown to reduce the number of strays, for failing to set up humane animal shelters that try to find homes for the ones that can be rehabilitated, and for failing to create and enforce laws that punish animal abandoners and abusers.

These are modern, ethical solutions for a modern state. We call on all responsible heads of government to implement these to help create a better world for both stray animals and the humans around them.

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