By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT-FLE
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia isn’t a favourable way to solve problems, but I’m not here to talk about the war. Today, I want to discuss the articles I see on social media relating to the dog population in Ukraine. I wrote an article a few years back about free-roaming and feral dog management, and I feel it’s time to revisit the topic.
North American people and a few other large cities around the world tend to view dogs in a very different light than we do. The WHO-WSPA’s Guidelines for Dog Population Management (1993) classify dogs as restricted, semi-restricted, unrestricted, and feral.
Restricted: fully dependent, fully restricted, and supervised by a human
Semi-restricted: fully dependent and semi-restricted
Unrestricted: semi-dependent and unrestricted
Feral: independent and unrestricted
Most dogs on the planet fall into unrestricted and feral categories. That is because, culturally speaking, people view dogs as, well, dogs. They aren’t fur babies or fur kids; dogs are simply dogs. In Ukraine, the estimated feral dog population varies between 50,000 and 100,000. In Canada, the stray dog population hovers around 20 000 dogs. The Ukrainian human population is 44M, and the Canadian population is 38M. You don’t need to do complex math to see how problematic feral dogs are in Ukraine. With that said, let’s look at management strategies.
Why rescues fail
Rescues that fly to countries to import unrestricted or feral dogs have a very noble goal: decrease the dog population and save lives. Unfortunately, the opposite occurs. When you remove feral dogs from the population, they open the ecological niche. By removing dogs, the remaining ones will simply reproduce and fill the niche once more. Only this time around, the local dogs will produce even more puppies.
According to Izaguirre (2011), when a country combines culling and sterilization, a country can effectively reduce the population. Combining sterilization and culling increases the effectiveness of the management strategy, which, in turn, guarantees the country's overall success. I know this sounds inhumane, but when we look at it from an ecological perspective, it is the most humane way to control dog populations.
There are currently 471M dogs residing on earth, of which 200M are strays. The unrestricted/feral dog population is estimated to be between 700,000 and 900,000 dogs (WHO, 1990; Statista, 2018; NPR, 2017). It becomes clear that international adoption as a dog population management strategy is ineffective. The international adoption practice represents another major problem: health. A few years ago, Canadian rescues imported dogs from other countries, which passed on diseases to the resident dog population. The increase in imports during the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the Canadian government to change its legislation in May 2021 (CFIA, 2021).
I strongly believe new strategies need to be considered if we are to effectively, safely, and humanly control dog and cat overpopulation. A discussion needs to take place as to why dogs find themselves semi-restricted, unrestricted, or feral. Furthermore, accepting our cultural differences is mandatory to understand the foundation of the problem. Rescuing dogs from the meat market or other living situations isn’t viable. I think it’s very arrogant of one country to tell another nation what they can or cannot eat. Maybe people have no other source of food. In any case, it all starts with education.
- Bögel, K, Frucht, Karl, Drysdale, George, Remfry, Jenny, World Health Organization. Veterinary Public Health Unit. et al. (1990). Guidelines for dog population management. World Health Organization.
- Bringing animals to Canada: Importing and travelling with pets. Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (2021). Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://inspection.canada.ca/importing-food-plants-or-animals/pets/eng/1326600389775/1326600500578
- Dog and cat pet population worldwide 2018. Statista. (2022). Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1044386/dog-and-cat-pet-population-worldwide
- In Ukraine, technology offers humans solutions to the problem of stray animals. (2021). Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://emerging-europe.com/after-hours/in-ukraine-technology-offers-humane-solutions-to-the-problem-of-stray-animals
- Izaguirre, E. R. (2011). WIAS PhD project proposal on ecology and society.
- NPR Cookie Consent and Choices. (2022). Retrieved 4 March 2022, from https://www.npr.org/2017/12/29/574598877/no-easy-answer-to-growing-number-of-stray-dogs-in-the-u-s-advocate-says
- Smith, Lauren & Hartmann, & Munteanu, Alexandru & Villa, Dalla & Quinnell, Rupert & Collins, Lisa. (2020). The Effectiveness of Dog Population Management: A Systematic Review. Animals. 9: 1020. doi 10.3390/ani9121020
 Unclassified dog population; consequently, lost dogs fall into this category.