Dog Population Management: An International Review
Populations of stray or “roaming” dogs exist in some form in countries all around the world. We may not be used to seeing roaming dogs on the streets of the United States or Canada, but in other regions of the world the stray dog “problem” is more pronounced and visible. Companion animal advocacy groups use a wide variety of tactics to address the problem. Local humane societies across North America may take strays into their shelters to be rehomed, while organizations such as the Soi Dog Foundation have a more specific mission. As these organizations work on a local and/or national level to help roaming dogs, there are opportunities to address the issue internationally.
To that end, the International Companion Animal Management Coalition recently released an impact assessment report that examined 110 pieces of literature from around the world. Their purpose was to create a document describing “efficient and meaningful monitoring and evaluation of Dog Population Management (DPM) interventions.” With an international scope, they set out to detail “simple, repeatable methods and meaningful indicators for communities searching for cost-effective impact assessment.” They identified 49 different points and indicators that relate to roaming dog health and well-being. Although they noted that “not all indicators were found to be equal, varying in terms of their validity, reliability and feasibility,” they provide them as potentially useful measures. The authors note that measuring the results of different tactics or reproducing their effectiveness (or even applying the same techniques for different locations) may not be possible. Still, there is something worthwhile in assembling these globally-relevant indicators.
Some of the key findings are worth highlighting. The authors say the most common ways of assessing street dog welfare are “body condition score and skin condition, probably because they are very visible signs and do not require clinical examination to be scored.” But there is a large amount of variance in how those scores are measured. Evaluating street dogs is difficult and requires “more intensive survey methods than measuring a relative index.” That being said, such surveys are more expensive to undertake, and the most cost effective method may be “to only pursue an absolute indicator as a baseline and monitor using a relative index.” As far as human health outcomes go, the researchers note that any intervention will need to take into account three indicators: dog bites, dog rabies cases, and human rabies cases. They acknowledge this won’t be possible in every situation, but argue that it’s still a worthwhile effort. Finally, they discuss the impact of roaming dogs on wildlife, noting that “surveillance of disease in both dogs and wildlife species will be needed to assess the impact of disease interventions.”
Advocates working to help stray/roaming dogs in parts of the world where they are common could certainly use more support. Perhaps most importantly, the authors of this study hope to “encourage innovation,” noting that many of the indicators they outline have “only been used once or twice and often in similar dog populations so their validity is arguable and they fall short of being termed ‘standardised.'” Through their recommendations of different indicators, and by publishing the document (which can be read in full at the link below), they “hope to catalyse an increase in efforts to evaluate (dog population management), but we will need to also leave space for, and indeed encourage, innovation.” Though they don’t offer an idea of what those innovations might look like, that may be where we as companion animal advocates need to pick up the thread.