"Stray dog" is the term usually applied to dogs in developed countries, most often where there is no owner, nor is there any person or persons in a community who regularly feeds them. These dogs may roam from food source to food source on a daily basis, depending on its availability.
Community dogs on the beach in the Tsunami Zone
"Community dog" is a concept not well known outside the developing world. Community dogs may not be "owned" by an individual, but they may be fed regularly by members of the community, be scavengers with a regular route in the community, sleep in the same place every night, and respond to and protect the people in their immediate community. The community in general recognises that these dogs are suffering from lack of food, disease, and too much competition for their basic needs. But often the community dog population has exploded to the point where even those who recognise these dogs as part of the community have become concerned. This has created an ongoing public and international debate about the best way to manage the situation. Sri Lanka has an overwhelming majority of community dogs compared to stray dogs. The tsunami is estimated to have added 100,000 displaced animals to the mix.
Dog at home in refugee camp
"Owner-dogs" are owned by an individual or family. In many cases, however, they may be free to wander in the community as many houses are not fenced and doors may be left open during the day.
Population Mismanagement: Development versus Culture
Managing community or former owner-dogs has been a problem facing developing countries, such as Sri Lanka, as they begin to emerge in the global arena of the 21st century. With local and international population growth, community development, and tourism, and the lack of legislation for pet and animal control, there can be a clash with cultures where community dogs have been a way of life and part of society for centuries.
Western countries have managed these dog populations via legislation amounting to education programs on responsible pet ownership and the regulations required to own a pet. Most developing countries are just beginning to deal with the community dog problem at a legislative level after years of unproductive and inhumane culling or attempts at sheltering that were quickly overwhelmed by the reality of the sheer numbers of animals, and Sri Lanka is no exception.
Kitty brought for sterilisation
In many cases, the populations of stray and community dogs may actually be increased over time by killing or removal because nature does not like a vacuum. What is finally being understood is that killing and removing the community and stray dogs from the environment as a population control method actually makes the problem worse: removing dogs from an area actually creates an opportunity for the remaining population to grow more rapidly. The environment actually improves for the dogs who are left to breed with less competition for scavenged food sources (usually a garbage management problem). Dogs in neighboring areas soon move into the "cleaned up" area, and nature may further compensate by increasing litter sizes. Before long, the street dog population returns to its previous level, and the killing, often done inhumanely, had no real effect — and then the authorities start another round. Sterilisation and vaccination of the animal population is an answer — but it is crucial that the sterilised and vaccinated animals be returned to their original territory as their territorial nature prevents other animals from moving in.
It has proven crucial that dogs owned by individual people also need to be sterilised and vaccinated. Owner-dogs can be significant contributors to the overpopulation situation. Owner-dogs will usually be in better health and better fed than many community dogs, and will thus reproduce more successfully. But, too often, irresponsible owners will discard the puppies in streets or around temples. And even this generation may reproduce more successfully than longer term community dogs.
An integrated strategy based on three approaches is required to successfully address the problem:
TAPA's active community awareness building has resulted in a sterilisation ratio of approximately 50% community dogs and 50% owner dogs. TAPA also seeks to educate community leaders and citizens about what we are doing, and why, and how responsible pet ownership ties into the equation. TAPA is now beginning a more formal education programme, thanks to a grant from the RSPCA (UK). We also include education about how to avoid dog bites.