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The Challenge of Dog Population Management for Public Health and Animal Welfare

A timely step forward has been taken with the International Expert Meeting on Dog Population Management held at the Spinola Foundation in Banna, Italy. A joint effort between The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and the Istituto G. Caporale Teramo, Italy (ICT) – with the contribution of the European Commission, ICAM, OIE, PAHO and WHO – brought together a group of experts from different disciplines and across the globe to address the challenges of dog population management, both domestic and stray, in a holistic way.


The call for improved stray dog population management is driven by the need to ensure the welfare of animals while reducing the health and safety risks that dogs may present to people. To achieve this, it is necessary to address the whole dog population and not only stray animals. Recent civil unrests as well as environmental challenges, whether man-made or caused by natural disasters, make the need to manage dog population even more urgent. It is also imperative that the challenges of urbanization, waste disposal, changing dog keeping practices, disposability of dogs, social, cultural and religious differences are all taken into account.


"This international meeting has shown the value of proper dog population management for society: not only to control zoonotic diseases and dog-bites, but ultimately to contribute to human wellbeing and animal welfare. In order to attain the highest standards and sustainability, we need a multifaceted, and all inclusive approach", said Daniela Battaglia, FAO Livestock Production Officer in charge of Animal Welfare.


At the end of 2010, FAO held an e-consultation that reviewed the state of knowledge of dog population management worldwide. The event held in Banna in March 2011, evolved from that endeavour and paved the way for the different participants coming from academia, government authorities, non-governmental bodies, public health institutions, and intergovernmental organizations to discuss dog population management.


Working under the framework of animal welfare and public health, the 2011 Banna meeting underlined the need to take a systematic approach that recognizes societal needs and new global trends when addressing dog population management challenges.


"In this forum there was consensus on the urgent need to fully integrate dog population management into a comprehensive public health global strategy. It is of utmost importance to make the new scientific achievements as well the latest technological tools available to those who are dealing with this complex issue", said Paolo Dalla Villa, Head of the Human-Animal relationship and Animal Welfare Unit at the ICT.


Public attention and concern about dog populations is rising. Trends in dog ownership are also changing. A recent report by WSPA on dog ownership in Vietnam between 2003 and 2007 shows an increase of 47 percent in pet dog ownership. If these trends are not accompanied by a shift to a more responsible attitude towards animals, this will inevitably lead to animal abandonment and mistreatment.


"In this meeting we have found a particularly close link between animal welfare and human well being. There is an increasing acceptance that animal suffering is not a necessary cost to achieve benefits for people", emphasised Elly Hiby, Scientific Advisor at WSPA. "As we've seen in our work around the world, once communities are engaged, with clear communications and education where needed, people will invariably choose humane and sustainable alternatives to control methods that causes animal suffering".


There is a strong commitment to advance dog population management by building a robust and effective network, sharing lessons learned, developing good practices and closely engaging communities that are the ultimate beneficiaries.


One of the significant outcomes of this meeting is that participants identified the need for a permanent international technical forum on dog population management. This forum will be coordinated by FAO and open to all relevant actors.


"The participants have identified common challenges and proposed context based, concrete interventions to advance dog population management", said Katinka de Balogh, FAO Senior Officer - Veterinary Public Health.