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June 21, 2013: Stray dogs, a measuring stick of a society's empathy

Originally posted on June 18, 2013 on this blog.

I've recently been traveling though several countries with a large number of stray/street dogs. Now, from an Effaist point of view, all sentient life is precious. We believe that ultimately, the life of a cow is as important as the life of a dog or a cat or a chicken. By picking and choosing whose life is more important, we open ourselves to the conclusion that it’s OK to kill a certain animal because they’re "not as intelligent", "meant to be killed", etc. This type of thinking is a stumbling block on the road to true progress, and I have already written several blog entries about the need to expand our horizon to start respecting the life of as many animals as possible.

Having said all that (to keep things in perspective), the way a society treats dogs does indeed reflect on certain values, or sometimes lack thereof, prevalent in that society. Dogs are arguably our most loyal and true companions out of all animals. They are intelligent. They become attached to us immensely and become our true and faithful friends soon after coming into our lives. They rely on us, wait for us, and love us. They do all this in a very obvious way. There is no mystery in a way a dog loves the person that takes care of it. There is no mystery in the affection that dogs require, and that many stray dogs beg for walking the streets after being abandoned. There is no mystery in the pain in a dog’s eyes when it is missing its owner. For most people, considering all of the things I have just described, this would be the easiest animal to empathize with. A dog would be the easiest example of how we should take care of our animal friends, and to help them lead lives free of fear, pain, loneliness, and depression. So, when I see a society where dogs are easily abandoned, and when an animal that is so obviously loving and faithful, is discarded like some kind of toy that is no longer amusing, I question the compassion of that society. When stray dogs roam the streets, begging for food, and most people just pass them by, not feeding them, not giving them water, not showing any kind of love for an animal that would have done anything for them had the situation been reversed, I question the priorities of that society. When instead of taking concrete steps to improve the lives of these dogs, a society chooses to exterminate them, to demonize them by treating them as a supposedly "dangerous" nuisance, I question the heart of that society.

Some people will point out that many places where there is a problem with stray dogs are poor, and that there simply isn’t enough money to spend on this type of thing. While it is true that sometimes these societies are relatively poor, this is not the only reason that this problem exists. Ignorance and prevalent norms play an equal if not greater part in perpetuating the problem, or making it worse. They are what give the welfare of homeless animals a very low priority. Instead of spending money on programs to spay and neuter strays, building no-kill animal shelters or supporting existing ones, educating the population, especially children, about the good treatment of pets, etc., municipalities with a large population of stray dogs often spend money on other things, things such as stadiums, government buildings, etc, that are ultimately less important in terms of improving life for its human residents, dogs, and other city animals. All true animal lovers in these cities should constantly take action to pressure their local government to adopt humane methods of dealing with the problem (the most accepted of which is the catch and release type spay/neuter program), to create programs to educate the population not to abandon pets, and to create stricter laws and penalties relating to this type of abandonment. Many European cities (and some Mexican ones that I know of) have already seen a great decrease in the number of stray animals due to the above methods.

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