It may be hard to imagine, especially if you are living in a world with leash laws, animal control, and a culture that spays and neuters its pets, but stray dogs -- not just one or two or a small pack, but thousands upon thousands -- are a very real problem in many parts of the world. This is something we've been documenting for quite some time, an oft-neglected issue with major implications from both an animal welfare and public health and safety standpoint.
In the past, when stray dog populations grew out of hand, they were simply shot or poisoned. Just a century ago, it wasn't an uncommon occurrence in New York City. But this isn't something anybody wants to do, and with advancements in veterinary science creating alternatives, spay and neuter campaigns for strays are becoming more and more common.
One campaign we will be following with particular interest in 2012 is the combined efforts of Project Potcake and the New Providence Five Year Low-Cost Spay and Neuter Initiative.
In New Providence, the most populous island of the Bahamas, estimates of the stray dog population range between 10-20,000, and is growing -- on an island with a population of only 250,000 people, this is huge.
But you know what else is huge? The the numbers of dogs these campaigns are promising to spay or neuter this year: 3,000 pets and 2,000 strays. For their part, the Veterinary Medical Association of the Bahamas (VMAB), headed up by Dr. Peter Bizzell, will continue beyond 2012, with a five-year goal of 15,000 sterilizations.
"If, indeed, a total number of 5,000 dogs and cats are spayed/neutered during 2012, 3,000 by members of the VMAB and 2,000 by Animal Balance, this would provide an almost immediate reduction in the number of unwanted dogs and cats in the subsequent years and would effectively jump-start the five-year programme."
"For the first time in the history of animal welfare in New Providence, all of the veterinarian professionals are prepared to participate in low cost spays and neuters, all are committed to our five-year initiative, and hopefully all the animal welfare organizations appreciate what the vets are offering," Dr Bizzell said.
This is a very positive step, one that strikes at the root of the problem. Until recently, the only "solution" to the tragedy of stray potcake dogs has been to cull them or ship them out of the country for adoption in the United States, a practice referred to as humane relocation (or dog trafficking, depending on your point of view).
Only time will tell if these programs are a viable long-term option for controlling stray dog populations, but the efforts are noble and definitely worth applauding: they are seeking a cure for the problem -- not a treatment, not stopgap measures, but a solution -- and that is something we can't help but applaud.