When it comes to community dog ownership, paying close attention pays off

Can you tell whether these dogs are strays or locally owned? Knowing the difference helps local dog management efforts.

Working on humane dog management with communities who are generally underserviced means a couple of things.

First off, it means that IFAW receives lots of emails and phone calls from people asking for help with dogs in the community in which they live or work.

And second, when asked to describe the issue they are dealing with, they often simply say “too many stray dogs.”

The problem with describing the issue this way is that in many cases the dogs are actually owned.

And how exactly do we define “too many dogs”?

Too many dogs for one person or community might very well be just fine for another.

Many of us are used to living with dogs as companions or work mates in a pretty contained way – on a leash, in a backyard, at the dog park.

Due to the way we live with our dogs, we know where our dog is—either with us on a leash or back at the house or barn. However, many dogs around the world, including many communities in Canada, live quite differently.

Instead of being on the other end of the leash, they can be found roaming the community, picking up canine friends, heading to the lake for a swim, chasing a passing truck, following their person down the street, and hanging out back at their home.

But these are not stray dogs.

These are owned dogs who just happen to roam freely.

These owned roaming dogs are often the same ones who are called “stray” when we receive calls from people who have never been to a community where ownership practices are different from the ones they are used to. These same dogs are also the ones who end up in the “too many dogs” category.

Learn more about a Northern dog’s life – and its special challenges.

Unfortunately, this is often where an intervention starts—the problem is misidentified and therefore attempts to solve it utilize tools or services that can’t work because they don’t fit the real causes of the problem.

If you misidentify the problem, then the tools you use to fix it with won’t work.

This isn’t just the case for dog issues, it’s true of anything. If you have water in your basement and you fix a crack in the foundation when the real problem is a leaky roof, you haven’t addressed the real problem or used the appropriate tools.

The most helpful information is the correct information so taking the time to observe how dogs act in the community setting is imperative.

Talking to community members, and not just those who like dogs—or as the case may be, don’t like dogs—is essential to getting a full picture. Then understanding the context and culture (if it’s not your own) really helps describe the way the community works and the way the dogs fit into it.

IFAW works to assist communities in need with humane and sustainable dog management programs.

To do that takes all the right information and assistance from the ground.

Dogs and community members benefit when those who are called on to assist have the appropriate resources and services to meet the real objective on the ground.

-- JH

For more information about the IFAW Northern Dogs project in Canada, visit our project page.

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters