For several months now, newspapers in Moscow have decried “dog vigilantism.” Since Russia does not regulate pet ownership, many citizens simply let their dogs roam freely, adding to the stray dog population. From 1990, the population of feral dogs has grown until there are about a million homeless dogs. Roaming the streets in packs, these dogs have attacked tourists and children. The rise, in both the number and severity, of recent attacks has encouraged “dog hunters” to kill thousands of stray dogs, throughout the nation.
In reaction to the “dog hunters,” dog owners and their supporters took to the streets of Moscow. The dog owners demanded that the killers of their pets be found and punished. According to various Russian newspapers, “a wave of violence and anarchy” will continue unless current animal control laws are enforced. Until then, “a small-scale civil war” has broken out between the pet owners and dog hunters. In retaliation, the owners have meted out their own version of justice on the dog hunters.
Besides creating a climate of vigilantism, the killing of stray pets does not solve the problem of overpopulation of feral animals. In zoology, the “vacuum effect” governs what happens when a territory is deliberately depleted of selected animals. When the wolves were decimated in the eastern United States, the coyotes of the West moved into the former territories of the eastern wolves. In the case of feral cats, when a colony is removed either by trapping or killing, new feral cats will move in. They take advantage of the food and shelter that is now readily available.
Overpopulation of feral and stray pets is not restricted to only cats and dogs. In southern Florida, feral pythons, which are non-native, are decimating the native animals. (Pythons can breed eighty babies at a time.) Animal shelters and herpetological societies are so inundated with the cast-offs of large boas and monitor lizards that they cannot to take in any more. The ones that are abandoned with these groups are usually too ill to survive. Because they require extensive, experienced, and expensive care, many of these reptiles are unadoptable. The herpetological societies often grapple between keeping these reptiles at great personal expense or condemning them to death.
The source of the overpopulation of pet animals is careless and thoughtless humans. People, who are unable to care for their animals, will often release them into the wild. Other people will move, and abandon their pets. Pet stores often fail to inform people of the special care for animals such as iguanas, which requires secured habitats. Moreover, stores will sell many reptiles so cheaply to give the impression that they are disposable pets. Greater demand for cats and dogs has prompted breeders to breed more genetically-compromised animals for the pet trade. Often the cost needed to keep these animals healthy will prompt people to abandon them at shelters.
According to the American Humane Association, about eight million stray and unwanted cats and dogs are taken into animal shelters annually. Of that number, about four million pets are euthanized. Meanwhile the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that there are about seventy-eight million owned dogs and eighty-six million owned cats in the United States. Of that number, seventy-eighty percent of owned dogs are spayed or neutered, and eighty-eight percent of owned cats. This means that about twenty percent of pets are breeding, and adding to the overpopulation problem.
Faced with these statistics, concrete solutions are needed. Wholesale euthanasia does not address the problem of demand for most pets. First and foremost, people need to be aware of the problem of too many animals. An education effort is needed to inform people of responsible pet ownership. Michelle Kaplan of “Iguanas for Dummies” counsels against succumbing to the “Pet of the Week” syndrome, which promotes the “Disposable Pet” syndrome. Existing animal control laws also need to be enforced. In Florida, special licenses are required for reptiles and exotic pets.
However, the solution to curbing animal overpopulation differs from species to species. One thing that animal control authorities agree on to curb the random dumping of garbage. Eliminating feeding areas such as unattended dumpsters will decrease the numbers of stray animals in an area.
Alley Cat Allies (ACA) points out that cats, as a species, have evolved alongside humans, often feeding at the fringes of settlements, and can live independent of humans. ACA define “feral cats” to be cats that either attack or flee from humans. Stray cats, on the other hand, welcome the humans and therefore can be adopted. ACA stresses that feral cats cannot be rehabilitated for human companionship, and need to be kept in their home colonies. ACA counsels against the wholesale removal of feral cats because of the vacuum effect.