Dog lovers or not, we all want to see an end to the stray dog problem in Mauritius. We have all been shouting on all platforms that the solution is to catch the strays, sterilise as many stray and owned dogs as possible, find homes for them or release out the stray ones. However insane this might seems, releasing dogs in an area will reduce stray dog population there. At a first fleeting look it doesn’t seems to make any sense but with a little bit of digging and data, we get to understand the genius behind this concept. I have had many comments on why should dogs be sent back to the streets, why can’t they be re-home or place into a shelter? Let’s go through each ‘solutions’ to get to know about their feasibility but before you read on… for a moment… get rid of your pre-conceived ideas…
And here are some facts:
- The population size of stray dogs can only grow up to the point of ecological balance. (There’s a maximum limit)
- CNR (Catch Neuter Release) for dogs in developing countries has been modelled on trap, neuter, and return (TNR) successful programs for feral cat colonies in the United States (HSI 2002).
- The `stray dog’ issue has unfortunately become one of people against dogs and it is a common misconception that only one can benefit from a dog control program. The WHO maintains that such program was designed to serve both.
- Owned dogs clearly play an important role in maintaining or increasing population levels of free roaming dogs.
- CNR is a long term solution but effective. Jaipur in India is one successful program of CNR as well as the HSI project in Bhutan.
- Rapid, effective and immediate solutions for the stray dog problem simply DO NOT EXIST.
There are commonly 3 approaches to solve the stray dog problem:
- Catch and kill
- Catch, Neuter and release
1- Catch and Kill of dogs
Lets also address this question from a strictly practical point of view, not taking into account animal welfare because one might think that my love and compassion for dogs will bias my judgement.
Firstly, there is no easy, cost efficient and humane way to kill this many dogs. Because a majority of the dogs are owned they would first have to be collected into a shelter to give the owner a reasonable chance to retrieve their lost pet before euthanasia. Humane management of that many dogs is yet another resource consuming activities but I personally doubt we have the capacity right now. This process is slow and inefficient, and the remaining dogs in the street are left to reproduce at the same rate as they are collected and put down.
The reason an area has so many strays is because the animals have access to food, water, shelter and breeding mates there. When dogs are removed from an area, there is a vacuum effect — other dogs quickly move in to take advantage of newly available resources, and they breed back to capacity. The more you remove. The more dogs will come in. In Bhutan before the mass sterilization campaign, the Vacuum effect cause dthousands of rats to inundate the areas left available by the dogs that were displaced.
The equation goes like that:
Remove Dogs = Newly available resources = More dogs come in to replace
There are so many issues with the idea of sheltering thousands of dogs that it cannot be held realistic in Mauritius. Money and resources would simply never be enough. You also have to remember that most stray dogs in Mauritius are owned in one form or another and these dogs could not be kept in a shelter.
There are also other problems regarding sheltering. Especially in a bigger shelter you need to take into account the risks of infectious diseases. There needs to be appropriate isolation areas and regular vaccination, deworming and anti ticks/fleas schemes. The dogs need to be sterilized in order to avoid reproduction and fights between the males. Above all this, the grouping of the dogs needs to be done with great concern in order to assure their safety. All of this requires a lot of funding in order to provide the dogs with all food and treatment they need. Shelter staff needs to be trained. With sheltering, you can however only work with controlling the consequences of dog population boom; you are not doing anything to solve the problem.
Mauritian shelters barely manage to provide for the dog’s basic needs for survival, including food and sterilization. Shelters strive everyday to cover the humongous cost of run.
In worst case scenarios like what we saw at MSAW the shelters are transformed into concentration camps where dogs are starving, fighting, reproducing and suffering from different diseases.
On the other hand, a shelter can be a great safe haven for the dogs. In a clean, well maintained shelter dogs are likely to live a happier life than on the street. Especially shelters that have their own veterinary clinic like PAWS are important for the community, since they are places where the locals can get support, advice and education. Veterinarians and animal keepers are working daily to provide the animals with good care but facing daily issues of finding the money to sustain their work. Shelters however have a threshold to respect and not all animals are accepted in.
What you can accomplish with sheltering is, at its best, saving individual dogs’ lives (from starvation, freezing or poisoning) and improving their quality of life, but sheltering cannot solve the problem with stray dogs.
The equation goes like that:
More shelters = More resources = Not sustainable
3- Catch, neuter and release
Catch, neuter and release aims at first to (1) STABILIZE THE POPULATION and secondly to (2) REDUCE THE POPULATION. So one must first understand the fact that this solution, though effective will take time to yield the most wanted results… So we need to increase our threshold of patience and accept that very solution which has proved to be successful in many countries.
The basic idea of a CNR programme is to catch or collect the dogs, sterilize them, treat them if needed and after recovery, return them to the same place where they were caught. This means that the dogs keep on living their lives in the same area and, because of pack mentality; they keep other, unsterilized dogs from entering the territory. In this way the number of animals decreases slowly at the rate of natural mortality.
One female and her offspring can produce up to 67 000 puppies in six years, meaning dogs are extremely reproductive. The CNR programme consists of several steps, and a few generations of dogs need to be neutered before a noticeable change is seen.
Sterilized dogs do not fight anymore between them and become friendlier and accepted by humans.
The equation goes like that:
CNR = Stabilize dog population = Reduce dog population with time
The benefits of CNR to humans are unquestionable but CNR alone is still not enough to solve the whole problem with stray dogs in Mauritius.
Projects to control canine population involve so much more than just the animals. According to WSPA (World Society for the Protection of Animals), animal population control must be performed on different levels including:
- garbage control
- habitat control
- neutering of pets and stray dogs and cats
- control of breeders/sales
- education of the public
It has been statistically proven that if a minimum of 65% to 70% of dog population is sterilized within an area, the CNR programme can be successful within only a few years. Mauritius has a total owned dog population of approximately 246,000 and roaming street dog population of approximately 57,000. A large majority of the street dog population in Mauritius is owned thus the number of truly stray dogs is relatively low. A good CNR programme will have to be done strategically and monitored based on statistics… the complete opposite of what has been done up till now.
In 2015, The Mauritian Government still has not grasped the importance of implementing a humane dog population programme. It is high time now… before Mauritius becomes like Romania or Thailand!
HUMANE DOG POPULATION MANAGEMENT GUIDANCE – One of the best document that has been released so far on dog population management has been done by ICAM to provide guidance on how to assess dog population management needs and how to decide upon the most effective and resource-efficient approach to managing the population in a humane manner. This document serves as guidance for local authorities and Government to find the best solution as per their resources and culture to tackle the growing problem of stray dog population. If the Government of Mauritius is genuine in its desire to sort this problem once and for all, then they should study this document well and put competent persons on that project.