Feral dogs, as well as feral cats, are rapidly becoming a very serious problem in most if not all of the larger metropolitan areas throughout the world. Unfortunately these feral dogs, many which have been abandoned by uncaring owners, have not only survived their life on the streets but have also gone on to reproduce. This has further increased the numbers and has lead to some very real health and genetic concerns within these numbers. Feral dogs can be from any breed and most, especially if born as feral puppies, are going to be mixed breed, perhaps mixed breed for several generations.
Although the number of wild or feral dogs is impossible to accurately predict, the National Geographic study of dog populations world wide was estimated to be at approximately 500 million. These is no doubt that this is on the conservative side since feral dog populations are found throughout any part of the world where there is a substantial human population.
Rural Areas around Cities
Within rural areas around cities feral dog populations are a huge problem. Since dogs are pack animals by nature, once they find themselves in the wild they naturally form groups or packs. While one dog will not typically attack large livestock animals, several dogs in a pack certainly can chase down and corner sheep, pigs, cattle and even horses. It is estimated by the United States Department of Agriculture that over thirty seven million dollars in livestock damages occur every year by predators, with the majority of that directly related to feral dog attacks. Coyotes, wolves, bears and other wild predators actually figure in a much smaller percentage and they tend to be more problematic in the more remote rural areas where feral dogs are not typically as much of a concern.
Rural areas are often targeted as "drop" areas for people that no longer want to take the responsibility to care for their dog. Many people mistakenly believe that the dog will be able to find a home on a farm and that they are actually doing the dog a favor by allowing it to live in the country. In reality these dogs often become true nuisances, killing poultry, attacking other dogs and reproducing litters of puppies that will eventually become feral dogs themselves. They are often more dangerous to livestock than true wild predators since they have more comfort being around buildings and homes, plus they often have less fear of humans.
Many people living on farms also don't get their dogs spayed on neutered, leading to puppies that often are whelped away from the farm and grow up in a semi-wild or completely feral state. This can lead to multi-generational feral dogs in some areas.
Dogs that become lost, are abandoned or are simply dumped in urban areas have an extremely difficult life. Often they are injured by vehicles, abused by people, and forced to survive by eating garbage, waste and whatever else they can find. Occasionally these dogs are picked up and used in the horrible and illegal practice of dog fighting, either within fights themselves or to train the fighting dogs. Fighting dogs that don't measure up are dumped into the streets, posing a serious threat to domestic dogs, people and other pets in the area.
Feral dogs in urban areas are also problematic because they are highly likely to carry various diseases including rabies, hepatitis, distemper, parvovirus and influenza. In addition they also have fleas, worms and other parasites that can easily be passed to domestic dogs, even if they are on a routine treatment. While most dog diseases cannot be passed to humans, there are a few that can be, posing a risk to the human population in the area in the event of an outbreak.
Of course there are also the relatively rare but still very serious news stories about children and adults being attacked by packs of feral dogs. In urban areas, especially in the crowded inner city neighborhoods this is not as uncommon as most people think. Individuals that are the victims of these types of dog attacks have to go through a series of rabies vaccination and are at risk for developing other diseases through the bites. Infections and secondary concerns are also a very real factor and are costly to treat.
Managing Feral Dog Numbers
Most major cities have some type of program for managing feral dog numbers. This can include trapping, vaccinating, spaying and neutering and release of the feral dogs to a designated area. Many cities work with dog rescues and dog associations and clubs to attempt to train and socialize the feral dogs, especially puppies, and then find appropriate homes. While rescues try their best to find homes for the dogs, often their temperament and training challenges make them some of the hardest to adopt out. Feral puppies can often be very successfully trained and socialized, however typically the dogs are not captured until they are mature.
Fines for allowing your dog to roam or being traced back to an abandoned dog have not been successful in lowering the number of dogs that are simply abandoned each year. Mandatory spay and neuter programs have also not been effective since the type of owner that abandons a dog often doesn't take it to the vet for vaccinations or bother getting a license. If the dog has not been licensed and is not on record, it is virtually impossible to ensure spaying and neutering can be enforced. Some cities have set up very low cost spay and neuter clinics, which have had a positive result in many cases.
In worst case scenarios capture and kill programs are put in place to manage feral dog numbers and prevent epidemics of diseases from becoming a problem. Since these dog populations are in urban areas, even capturing the dogs can become a logistical issue. Packs often travel miles each day and may not come back to the same place to allow tracking and capture. The cost of these programs is astronomical plus many community members are completely against these methods.
Managing feral dog populations really comes down to everyone managing their own dogs and acting responsibly. Reporting possible puppy mills, irresponsible dog owners and getting involved in assisting at a feral dog rescue are all ways that all responsible dog owners can get involved.
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