Although many of Romania’s politicians and citizens believe that the only way to solve the country’s stray dog problem is via mass euthanasia, we (as well as countless other animal rights organizations across the globe) firmly believe that, in fact, the solution lies in sterilization.
For now, we’ll leave aside the argument that mass euthanasia is inhumane. As animal lovers, we naturally believe this; on the other side, those who dislike dogs and just want them off the street will never be moved by this. Instead, our aim is to show that, even with the single-minded goal of simply getting dogs off the street, euthanasia has already failed as a policy and always will; while sterilization offers promise for the future.
We can begin by looking at the case study of the mass killing that took place in Bucharest between 2001-2004. In this time, over 100,000 dogs were killed, and the population of street dogs was reduced by as much as half. However, given 3 whole years and massive amounts of funding, this number is in fact not very impressive. Less impressive is that the numbers were back to peak levels within 2 or 3 years after the campaign stopped. The reason for the failure is that even the best dog catchers cannot catch every single dog in a given time. Furthermore, a group of dogs in any given space live in an equilibrium between their population and the resources (space, water, food) available. Even if in a given year, a dog catcher is able to catch 80% of the dogs in an area – which is a very generous estimate – the remaining 20% will suddenly find a large positive gap between the number of dogs and the amount of resources. Since euthanasia campaigns never involve sterilization, these dogs will begin to multiply more rapidly. More food means females will have larger litters, and that more pups will survive to adulthood. Since puppies reach reproductive age in 8-18 months, it will only take two or three years for the population to rebound to its equilibrium level – exactly what happened in Bucharest after the killings stopped. Even if the killings were to continue indefinitely, the catchers would still never reach 100% catch levels, and the remaining dogs would continue to have new pups, some of which would be caught but others not, and so on. With so much abundant space and food, dogs would move freely around the city, and females would have litter sizes of 6-8 puppies twice per year. All that would be achieved would be a fractional reduction in the number of dogs which would cost enormous sums of money and only last until the campaign ended. Again, this is not hypothetical – it is exactly what occurred in Romania in the early 2000’s.
Now, let us compare this with a massive city-wide sterilization campaign. Again, let’s give the dog catchers a generous 80% catch rate per year, except this time rather than killing the dogs, they are sterilizing them and returning them to the streets. (The dogs are marked with ear tags of course, to identify that they have been sterilized and avoid re-catching them in the future). At the end of one year, if you started with 100 dogs in an area, 80 will now be sterilized and 20 not. Those remaining 20 will continue to have pups, but because this group is already in equilibrium with its resources, the litter sizes will be small and the pups will essentially only replace the dogs that died, and the number will remain at around 100. Let’s assume, including old dogs dying and new pups being born (unsterilized of course) that in a year you are now left with 70 sterilized dogs and 30 unsterilized dogs or puppies. In the next year, another 80% of these 30 dogs will be caught, leaving you with about 6 unsterilized dogs. Another year goes by, another round of puppies – but now from only 6 dogs – and maybe at the end of the year you have 90 sterilized dogs versus 10 unsterilized dogs or puppies. After that year, you have 2. And next year, probably zero. You are still left with 100 total dogs, but now all are sterilized, and the number will begin to decrease as dogs get old and die (no one said this was an instant solution!), until finally in a decade or so you are left without street dogs. There will always remain the problem of abandoned dogs, but with the dogs gone from the streets, shelters like ours will have the capacity to absorb all newly abandoned dogs and puppies.
Of course this is all hypothetical, but it is very possible. We have seen these results in our suburb of Popesti-Leordeni, where about 90% of the dogs are sterilized, and new litters are extremely rare. Naturally, long-term success will only come if this scenario is applied city-wide. Otherwise, we will eventually reach 100% sterilization rates in certain areas and the number of dogs will begin to dwindle down naturally, but eventually they will all be gone and new unsterilized groups from other parts of the city will move in to take up the resources. Indeed, this very problem is the main thing keeping us below 100%. However, it is what we propose! This country has seen the failures of euthanasia campaigns, and we are demonstrating the success of sterilization campaigns. We are only one shelter with just 5 volunteers – if we are able to accomplish this much in our area, imagine what 100 groups with 500 volunteers could do! Of course, this will all require government funding. But, if they were so willing to spend millions killing dogs, why not put the money to more effective (and humane!) use, and sterilize instead? Let’s get the dogs off the streets. Spread the word!