New guidelines offer lifeline to stray dogs

With good management stray dogs can be healthy and accepted by the community, but are often subjected to inhumane treatment

With good management stray dogs can be healthy and accepted by the community, but are often subjected to inhumane treatment

New stray dog control guidelines adopted by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) ask all 174 member states to use only humane methods as a matter of urgency – good news for the estimated 400 million stray dogs worldwide.

WSPA welcomes the move. Cruel culling methods, including shooting and poisoning, are frequently used to ‘manage’ stray dog populations. They cause great suffering and do not provide effective rabies control or reduce population size in the long term.

The new guidelines, proposed by the permanent working group on animal welfare – which includes WSPA representative David Wilkins, adhere to the same principles as our many companion animal welfare programmes across the world.

Read about a WSPA-funded programme in Sierra Leone >>

A strong start …

The guidelines are an important step towards the compassionate treatment of stray dogs, not least because the OIE advises the Chief Veterinary Officers of 174 countries.

WSPA’s Dr Elly Hiby – called on as an expert to advise the OIE in developing the guidelines – explains: “Population management commonly falls to veterinary departments in local and central government. With a mandate to advise veterinary government authorities across the world, OIE guidelines on dog population management will be extremely influential.”

While they are not legally binding, the OIE expects member states to do their very best to implement these standards, as reconfirmed by President Barry O’Neil during discussion on the guidelines. 

The important role of veterinary authorities in ensuring that the animal welfare principles expressed in the guidelines become reality was expressed by David Bayvel, chair of the OIE permanent working group on animal welfare, who called for vets to “be part of the solution.”

Room for improvement

A holistic project, like this one in Sri Lanka, can ensure a small, healthy stray dog population

A holistic project, like this one in Sri Lanka, can ensure a small, healthy stray dog population

© WSPA

While WSPA welcomes the guidelines, they fall short of those produced by the International Companion Animal Management (ICAM) Coalition in 2008.

While both groups recommend using only humane methods of control and a comprehensive approach including dog owners, ICAM have produced a fuller, more user-friendly approach.

The ICAM document steers the reader through a holistic humane dog management programme that starts with careful assessment of the local situation.  By taking the whole population into consideration – both owned and stray dogs – it is possible to address the source of stray dogs and achieve smaller, healthier populations in the long term.

What next for stray dog welfare?

The OIE guidelines are a promising start to a longer debate.

At the OIE General Session, member state Singapore requested that shotguns be considered a humane population management method, signalling that there is much work to be done before stray dogs are safe from cruelty.

“WSPA has an extremely important role to play as the international expert in humane dog population management. Adopting this text is the beginning of a process of evolution – there is still room for improvement and we look forward to working with both the OIE and member states to make this text better in years to come,” says Dr Hiby.

The ICAM Coalition was formed in 2006 from representatives of WSPA,HSI, IFAW,RSPCA International, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association and the Alliance for Rabies Control. Building on the original 1990 World Health Organization/WSPA document, the Coalition published a revised set of guidelines –Humane Dog Population Management Guidance– in 2008.

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