This lecture will address the following issues:
1. As an introduction, there will be a very brief overview of stray dog control programmes, stressing the requirements of the WHO / WSPA guidelines that were established in 1990.
2. The importance of population surveys in strategic planning and monitoring.
3. The necessity to decide the criteria on which the success of the programme will ultimately be judged.
4. A number of practical aspects of neuter and release programmes will be discussed.
5. Discuss whether euthanasia / killing should be a part of an agreed control programme.
Though dogs provide humans with many benefits, when the population becomes uncontrolled many adverse effects may occur. These include direct injury to humans and livestock, indirect injuries due to road accidents, the transmission of disease and general pollution. A cost can often be attributed to these dog-related problems, and this can be very high in countries where endemic dog rabies is a problem. Historically, municipalities have responded by introducing mass slaughter campaigns, often using inhumane methods. These have invariably proved to be unsuccessful in the medium / long term, and so in 1990, WHO and WSPA developed guidelines. These guidelines recognise that it is a complex matter with a number of essential elements, which in turn require the coordinated approach of all appropriate groups. The important elements are:
2. Registration and identification
3. Garbage control
4. Neutering owned animals
5. Neutering un-owned animals
6. Control of breeders and sales outlets
All elements need to be addressed, but their relative importance depends on the nature of the stray problem in any particular situation. This can only be ascertained by population surveys.
These are important because:
1. The initial survey is essential to select the correct overall strategy to suit the particular situation.
2. Allows the success of the programme to be monitored.
3. This in turn will identify successes and failures and so will highlight the necessity for modifications.
4. The use of standardised surveys will allow the comparison of data from different programmes.
The data collected may include the overall numbers of animals, the different categories (i.e., owned, "latch-key" dogs, strays, truly feral dogs), sex or age ratios and the proportion of neutered animals. The actual population can be expressed as the total population, the number of animals per unit area (absolute density), or the density of the dog population relative to that of the human population (relative density). The different methods will be discussed briefly, but further information can be found in: Hans C Matter and Thomas J Daniels (2000) in "Dogs, Zoonoses and Public Health".
Different stakeholders will want to analyse other data (e.g., the incidence of dog bites or rabies etc) and so it is important to agree on what data is to be collected and what are the criteria used to assess the overall success of the programme.
The summary of an ideal protocol would therefore be:
1. Carry out an initial full population survey.
2. Use this information to select the correct strategy.
3. Agree the programme with all stakeholders.
4. Agree the aims and objectives and criteria to be measured.
5. Monitor the progress by repeat surveys.
6. Modify the programme in the light of new data.
The reality is that programmes are rarely coordinated and usually managed by NGOs with limited resources. They view surveys as a low priority and so it becomes impossible to monitor success or to compare the results of different programmes.
Neuter and Release programmes
These provide an alternative strategy that is useful in some specific situations. The underlying philosophy is to replace a large uncontrolled potentially dangerous population with a smaller non-breeding vaccinated one. They are suitable when a stray population is inevitable and tolerated by society, and where there is an available food source. Most importantly, it must be part of an overall agreed plan.
Logistical and financial constraints that can potentially reflect on the success and indeed the "welfare-friendly" nature of these programmes will be discussed.
The quality of life and euthanasia
The speaker's personal views on the merits of euthanasia are discussed. The decision to euthanase an animal should be based on criteria that are in the interest of that particular animal. This is not the same as selective culling, where animals are killed as a means of population control. Should this be considered?
"No kill" policies are becoming fashionable. Though they may be morally ideal, is it possible that such a policy may cause increased suffering in situations of poor economy? What is the role of rescue shelters? It is clear that not all animals kept within shelters benefit from consideration of the five freedoms-should shelters therefore be licensed?
Our agreed and coordinated control programmes should address these questions.