Mama, Mexican street dog, ‘pet’ and civic leader, poisoned in Nayarit in 2015.
By Alisa Cromer
This project started with a murder mystery.
In Nayarit, Mexico on a street known locally as as ‘Dog Alley,’ I rent a room several months a year, and befriended the owner’s adopted street dog, Mama, and the new adopted puppy, Pinta, Destroyer of Hammocks. Both lived unfenced on the grounds and had too many individual interests to be considered “pets.”
‘Dog Alley’ is a disparaging nickname for the street, where each house seems to have one or more small dogs, often covered in fleas and fiercely territorial over the tiny patch of dirt road outside their home, charging any leashed dog that passes, and sometimes motorcycles or cars. Mama did not charge dogs or chase cars. She did chase an occasional truck, but only the white ones. Dogs on the street only charge – though ferociously – once per customer, and without a nip. It seems like this is their job. Afterwards, the dogs lie back down in the shade and lose all interest.
I also began photographing other dogs in the village, and am lucky to have the images, because one summer, after the ex-pats had gone home, all the dogs on Dog Alley were poisoned, Mama and Pinta, too.
It was so easy to do.
Street dogs, even adopted ones, eat anything in sight; they turn up their noses at nothing. Meat laced with rat poison must have seemed especially attractive. The cats died too. Even the chickens. It took a long time to talk about it, or who did it and why.
As Worldstir’s community discussed launching a Street Dogs of the World Photo contest some talked about dogs in their own cities being poisoned or shot, often by their own government. I had never told them my own story, and was amazed at how many in our small community of ten or so writers in as many countries experience this.
We decided to use the contest to raise awareness of better options.
Here’s the reality: Abandoned stray dogs roam many of the world’s major cities discussed below.
Where there is poverty and incompetent government, there are homeless street dogs, from Russia to Thailand, from India to Mexico. In Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, police simply shoot or poison them in an attempt to make the streets safe, or just to remove an eyesore.
And it still does not work.
The Trouble in Tunisia
One of Worldstir’s translators alerted us to how police shoot dogs in Tunisia nightly, even as we write this.
We did some research. In March 2017, the International Organisation for Animal Protection (IOAP) confirmed that “recently, on social media networks have
appeared images and videos of dogs slaughtered on Tunisian streets.
The above film was shot in 2016, but our writers from Tunisia say the practice continues.
Even OIPA admits the packs of stray dogs are dangerous.
“In 2015, just considering the one city of Monastir, 2,175 people were assaulted by stray dogs,” they report.
The pior year 47,000 people were attacked by dogs, according to the Tunisian Ministry of Health. 13 cases of rabies from dog bites were reported in the last few years.
But shooting and poisoning dog is not only cruel but ineffective. The only proven way to effectively solve the problem is by spaying dogs.
Police will simply never be able to shoot and poison enough dogs to keep up with the birth rate – a single dog couple’s offspring can “multiply to 50000 in five years,” as OIPA says. No one really knows how many puppies survive, but if you try to do the math it works: One abandoned female dog can produce a litter twice a year, so in just two years, one dog can have 16 puppies, who can breed at six months old, creating 64 more females, who will produce 1000 puppies, who will produce 8,000 females, and so on.
Extermination alone has not worked anywhere it has been tried, and will not where it is going on today, including other Middle Eastern countries like Egypt where our columnist Lara Lameh reported the current government is still shooting and poisoning the city’s stray dogs.
The solution has to be some combination of spaying and education, because the truth is that the problem often starts with irresponsible dog owners.
Take what happened in Turkey
Turkey has struggled with the stray dog issue for more than a century. A Turkish friend of mine now living in the U.S. remembers being traumatised as a boy by watching policemen shoot dogs in the streets of Istanbul in the 1970’s.
Clearly, shooting dogs did not work; 50,000 strays still live on the streets of Istanbul today.
But in spite of the abundance of abandoned dogs, many in Istanbul were developing a taste for high status foreign dogs, especially Golden Retrievers. Puppy farms were more than happy to oblige.
But as the puppies grew into dogs, and other dog breeds became more fashionable, families abandoned their Golden Retrievers in the streets to fend for themselves, or else dropped them at shelters that spade and often released back into the streets and suburban wooded areas.
Packs of starved wild Golden Retrievers, so gentle and expensive elsewhere, were now roaming the streets of Istanbul.
One suggestion to move them all into the forests outside the city was quashed by opponents who pointed out the dogs bred for friendliness could never fend for themselves amongst feral dogs in the wild.
We only know about this because, in 2015, Adopt a Golden Atlanta stepped in and offered to export the dogs, pricey in the West, to homes in Europe and the U.S.
The group claims to have rescued and placed 249 dogs since then, benefiting from coverage by CNN and sales of Turkey Dog T-shirts and stuffed animals. You can donate or better yet adopt one at AdoptagoldenAtlant.com. What better way to save a dog?
We are not going to show you tear-jerker videos of Turkish strays, but instead a video from Thailand of sixteen swimming Golden Retrievers, which will remind you why you love them.
In a way the Golden Retrievers are lucky – they are a desirable breed as people will pay $800 to $2500 for a purebred puppy in the West. But what about the dogs nobody wants?
Massive euthanasia in Bucharest, Romania
Euthanasia is less barbaric than shooting and poisoning. Countries aspiring to membership in the first world who want to solve their dog problems humanely, turn to this form of population control.
But at scale, it also raises ethical concerns. Take Bucharest, Romania where the stray dog population originally exploded under communism. People moving into government-sponsored city apartment blocks in the 1990’s were forced by government regulations to abandon their animals on city streets.
The result was inevitable: Dog packs began to roam in the streets of in Bucharest massive numbers.
When a Japanese businessman died from a dog bite in 2004, Traian Băsescu, then Mayor of Bucharest, euthanised 80,000 of the cities’ stray dogs in a single year.
Mass euthanasia created a backlash and was temporarily banned.
Then, in 2013, a four year old boy sitting on a park bench in Bucharest was attacked and killed by a street dog.
Băsescu, by then had been elected president of Romania, running on a platform that included joining the EU. He put into place a more progressive plan that combined euthanasia with spaying and adoption programs. In the next two years, the government captured 51,200 stray dogs in Bucharest euthanising about half, but spaying and adopting out another 23,000.
That’s progress. Today, many contend, however, that spay and release is a better solution.
In India a government-sponsored solution
For impoverished countries like India where spaying animals is unaffordable and euthanasia illegal, dog packs can easily spin out of control. That’s why the policy in Jaipur, a state in India that has controlled its dog population, is so interesting. Every year 20,000 people in India die from rabies.
Below is an amazing film you need to see:
What’s interesting about this experience is that India may have more stray dogs – 30 million – than any other country. In 2015 BBC reported that more people died in India from dog bites than in terrorist attacks. There are 20,000 cases of rabies per year.
In 2012, BBC reported “a lawmaker from Punjab kicked up a storm when he suggested that stray dogs should be sent to China and India’s north-east – where dogs are sometimes eaten – after a rising number of dog bite cases.”
But in Jaipur all the strays who have been through the program are marked with a notch in the ear, and are no longer feared. There has not been a single episode of rabies in four years.
From Russia to Thailand: No one wants the world to know
Governments often go to great lengths to hide their stray dog problem just before a high profile international event.
Russia, which has six million stray dogs, went on an extermination spree just prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics – which, of course, did nothing to solve the stray dog issue beyond a few weeks but much to continue tarnishing the country’s reputation.
Moscow alone still has 25,000 stray dogs, even with a national underground of vigilanti dog hunters who shoot and poison dogs in cities and parks, according to numerous articles in the New York Times and other international media.
If you Google ‘Russia dogs” you will not only find Donald Trump: The Russian Poodle , but also “Man kills 1000 by poisoning them with drugged sausages” and “Russian ‘dog-hunters’ who kill dogs for sport plan countrywide ‘dog hunt,” reported in 2015.
Thailand also also attempted a cover up of street dogs roaming Bankok prior to the 2003 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
The government had already poisoned 50,000 stray dogs in 1999, but had failed to institute a spaying program.
So in 2003, they simply ‘removed’ thousands of soi dogs (in Thai soi means “side-street”, “lane”, or “alley”), from Bankok and them sent to animal quarantines in Phetchaburi and Sa Kaeo Provinces.
Their fate remains unknown, but the country seems to at least be moving in the right direction: Thailand now promotes responsible ownership by requiring all dog owners to register, microchip, spay, and give their dogs rabies shots. If you abandon your dog, you can be tracked by the chip, and subject to huge fines.
Still, Thailand has not fully controlled its feral dog population; you can find more about Soi dogs and a remarkable organisation that helps save them at the end of this article.
And then there is Mexico
Ah, Mexico. Home of the scruffy, the matted-haired and the flea infected stray. While India with it’s 30 million strays has a dog to human ratio of 7 or 8 to 100, some places in Latin America have a ratio of one dog for every two people.
In my aforementioned seaside village, population 400, the government also used to cull the number of strays by poisoning them.
Police would simply drive down the streets with loud speakers telling people to keep their pets inside that night and leaving poisoned meat around the town.
These kind of killings are no longer tolerated, and ex-pats do their best to spay the dogs and cats on Dog Alley, and treat them for ticks and fleas.
The poisoning of the two dogs with whom I lived and hiked happened during the summer, after the ex-pats had gone home. It was almost certainly done by someone “old school” who lives in our town.
The next year, there was simply another crop of dogs on Dog Alley, equally scruffy and becoming adept at charging other dogs and chasing cars.
Traditional attitudes about dogs also remain.
Puppies are loved while cute, but neglected when grown. Men often won’t spay their male dogs for macho reasons. Strays roam the beach, even ones who “someone owns.”
And it’s not just in my town. In 2016 some 60 dogs, including many pets, were killed by meat laced with rat poison in Mexico City. More were found dead in Hermosillo, in northwestern Mexico.
Like the dog killers in Nayarit, no one ever discovered the culprits.
As in Turkey, the problem often begins with dog owners, who love puppies, but cannot or will not care for them long term.
“Markets on the streets sell thousands of puppies every weekend,” one of our Mexican writers told us. “People keep them a couple of weeks and throw them out.”
Especially gruesome is the method that Mexican canine control centers use to “euthanise” dogs, electrocution.
“They don’t have money,” she told us, ” So they put them in a room get them wet and then send the shock.”
Everywhere in the world where there are strays, there are groups helping local dogs.
Sometimes, as in my village, it is a few local women and men who adopt stray dogs and cats. An 83 year Mexican man next door feeds them a pile of fish bones every day.
But there are also larger non-profits that rescue, treat and adopt dogs internationally. RescuePaws Thailand set up near a Bhuddist Temple on the eastern coast is one of these noble efforts. Known as a good place to abandon a dog, the Temple
area has been overrun by hundreds of strays, now taken care of by Rescue Paws.
Besides veterinary medicine, RescuePaws Thailand facilitates international adoption and even finds flight volunteers who take the dogs to Europe, the United States and other countries. It also accepts volunteers interested in a unique travel adventure; fortunately the shelter is located in a scenic area near a beach.
Adopting a pup from Thailand is not cheap if the dog is too large to fit in a “take-on” carrier: The price is $800 to $1200 for a crated stray dog sent via cargo to the U.S. Adopting from Europe costs even more: $800 to $12oo Euros to ship, after waiting four to six months.
But if you don’t need a dog, you can also just sponsor a pack, for as little as $25.
And there is International Street Dogs, another non-profit that ships street dogs from around the world to the U.S. for adoption for about $300. They have no paid employees, and no overhead, so 100% of donations goes to the dogs. Donate here.
How else to help stray dogs
As you can see, many of the problems with stray dogs around the world often have their roots in cultural norms that require education.
Help us raise awareness by sending your canine photos to Street Dogs of the World Photo Contest and sharing the contest with your friends.
If we had to boil it down, the basic message is that spaying dogs is not just more humane, but also works, while poisoning and shooting dogs does not.
It is not the problem of one city or country, and solving it will require participation from communities and governments. Too much is being done today by non-profits, and local do-gooders.
To help the cause we are building a list of go-to organisations everywhere in the world to contact if you are traveling, and meet a special dog you want to help.
So you know of a great organisation in your country, please add it in the comments section, and we will add it to our list.
Even if we can’t save all the dogs in the world, we can embrace saving dogs one by one. Save a dog and you also save yourself as a human being.
Sometimes all it takes it to meet a stray and form a bond. Maybe go for walk. The rest, as they say, is history.