Stray Dog Epidemic Hits U.S.
By Joe Wilkes
Recently, an internal police memo from the Harrisburg, PA police department was revealed detailing their new policy in dealing with stray, or feral, dogs. The memo instructed officers not to bring any found animals to shelters, as they were already too overcrowded to accommodate them. Instead the officers were told that if they didn’t want to adopt the animal themselves, they should take it out of town and leave it, or failing that, shoot it. The so-called “kill, adopt, or dump” policy has provoked outrage among animal activists. Harrisburg is rethinking its policy and looking for alternative solutions, but it has shone a spotlight on an ugly problem in the U.S.
A recent article on Salon.com, “The Secret Lives of Feral Dogs” by Will Doig, discussed at length the growing problem of dogs running wild in America’s cities. Low estimates for the total number of feral dogs and cats in the U.S. are around 100 million, but it could be much higher. Especially in economically hard-hit cities where neighborhoods are being abandoned, dogs and cats are able to take over empty houses and multiply freely. Reduced city budgets also have meant more limited animal control and shelter services. Dogs have learned to adapt to their environments and look for food when humans don’t pose a threat, so there may often be more strays in our neighborhood than we notice.
It’s a thorny issue what to do with the dogs. Even PETA has said that humanely euthanizing them is better than what they may have to endure on their own. Feral dogs are susceptible to illness, injury, inclement weather, being hit by cars, and abuse by humans. And unlike coyotes or other wild animals, domestic breeds usually don’t possess the instincts that can help them survive in an environment without human assistance. Whether it’s kinder to humanely put these dogs to sleep rather than let them die slower, more painful deaths on the street is a subject of great debate.
What can we do to help curb the epidemic? The most important thing you can do is to spay and neuter your dog and support spaying and neutering efforts in your community. Most of the dogs on the street are not abandoned dogs or runaways, but the offspring of those dogs. When a feral dog has a litter of pups and those feral pups grow up to have feral litters of their own and so on, it’s easy to see how the problem grows out of control in just a few years.
You can also contact your city councilperson or county official and let them know as a taxpayer that you support funding humane animal control and animal shelter services so they can operate at effective levels. Tell your friends and neighbors to write, too. Even if they don’t care about the fate of the animals, they should recognize that having packs of wild dogs roaming the neighborhood isn’t going to do much for their property values.
And, of course, if you’re thinking of adding a dog to your household, check out your local shelter first. Your new best friend may be waiting there to be rescued by you.
The sad fact is that the solution for what to do with the millions of existing feral dogs on the streets of America will be extraordinarily difficult and most likely painful. But as a society, we can surely come up with a more humane answer than a bullet. Please leave your comments below.