The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates there are nearly 200 million stray dogs worldwide and an even higher number of stray cats. These animals are part of the daily reality on the streets in different countries. But what exactly is a stray animal? Are all dogs and cats that are roaming the streets classified as strays, and why is it necessary to provide care for them?
Moving from one sub-population to another
Once a stray, an animal will not necessarily always be one, and vice versa. To understand the different movements a dog or cat can make in its lifetime, we must dive into the so-called population dynamics: from birth to reproduction to death, and how the animals can move from one sub-population to another over their lifetime.
This illustration by ICAM Coalition (International Companion Animal Management – a coalition of which FOUR PAWS is a member) shows different dog population dynamics.
For instance, an owned female dog gives birth to several puppies, but they might lead very different lives. One could spend their whole life as a beloved family pet before being abandoned on the streets, while another might begin as a pet but then be handed into a shelter when no longer wanted. Others may be dumped on the street or become lost, becoming strays.
The struggle of being a stray animal
Not every free-roaming (wandering the streets without supervision) dog or cat can be called a 'stray'.
'Real' stray dogs and cats have been abandoned by their owners or were born onto the streets and have no one to care for them. We often find these animals wandering around in their territory in cities or rural areas, scavenging for food and shelter.
These stray animals’ lives are hard, with many daily challenges: for example, it is a struggle to find food, water and shelter, and they are usually without any medical care. They are also deprived of the love and companionship they need to thrive. Therefore, each day is a struggle to survive. Stray dogs and cats generally have high mortality rates, especially puppies and kittens.
Community-owned dogs and cats are typically cared for by community members but wander freely without specific owners. While they are generally accepted as part of the community, not everyone tolerates or likes them. Sadly, when these animals become sick or injured, they lack access to the necessary medical care due to limited resources in many communities.
Desexing programmes are vital for community animals (and free-roaming pets) as they interact with stray populations and contribute to the overpopulation of unwanted animals. Understanding and addressing the complex connection between community animals and strays is crucial in any population management programme.
Why stray animal care is essential
While some people may perceive stray dogs and cats as nuisances, these animals are only on the streets or in shelters due to inadequate human care and are in dire need of assistance. They endure tremendously difficult and brief lives. Furthermore, they often suffer from untreated illnesses, injuries, and, at times, deliberate abuse. In addition to their own plight, these animals also present several risks to humans and other animals.
Stray dogs and cats wandering the streets can carry zoonotic diseases like rabies and toxoplasmosis. Moreover, they can cause property damage or environmental contamination. When feeling threatened, they may display aggression, leading to potential harm to humans and other animals. Furthermore, their presence near roadways increases the likelihood of traffic accidents.
FOUR PAWS operates stray animal care programmes to provide respectful and compassionate treatment for these homeless animals, essentially pets without a home. Through these programmes, we strive to address the causes of stray animals and not just the symptoms to help humanely reduce the number of abandoned pets in the future.