The Puppy Problem
At the end of June, we received a call letting us know that a community had found a litter of puppies, born to stray dogs that live at the local rubbish dump. We ended up finding 13 in total across two communities, nine of them female. The community leaders reached out to us to see if there was an alternative to their normal “solution” for unwanted puppies.
Jim, our general manager, swooped in and took them to our mobile veterinary clinic and then to his house, while we worked out what to do with them. After some visits to our vets and a couple of weeks at Jim’s house, we found homes for all the puppies, mostly in the communities we work in. With the promise of veterinary care and spaying, we easily managed to find homes for all the females too!
Not Living Up to Expectations
One of the conditions of adoption was that the families had to stay in touch with the clinic team and bring the puppies to the clinic for vaccinations and check-ups when we are in town. They have also agreed to neuter the pups when they are big enough. We gave the families some starter dog food and coached them on how we expected them to care for the dogs.
Zafira was the runt of one of the litters and the smallest of the bunch. She’s also the odd one out: all her sisters and brothers are quite fluffy and look collie-like, but she has short, smooth fur. Like the others though, we were able to find Zafira a home in one of the villages. However, during the first follow up, Joel noticed that Zafira was too skinny. He spoke to the family, we provided them with some more dog food and reiterated the importance of feeding her properly. Unfortunately, there was no improvement, so we had to take the hard decision to remove her from the family’s care.
Attitudes That Perpetuate the Problem
This unfortunate story is an illustration of one of the biggest problems animals face here: attitudes towards animal welfare and care. The new owners assumed that Zafira would just go off and find food herself, and anything they gave her extra – from the table or the food we left – was a bonus. Of course, some animals learn to do that out of necessity, but she is very young and had no other dogs to learn from.
Attitudes like these, as well as other pervasive attitudes about what constitutes good animal care, form the basis for the dog-related problems in the villages. Leaving dogs to roam free creates a vicious cycle that leads to dog overpopulation, poor dog health and dog deaths, because people get so fed up with them.
The Importance of Education
It has become clearer than ever to us that education needs to be a cornerstone of our programme. We have been working with individuals so far, but now we will start to plan the work that needs to be done with the children and community leaders, as well as society at large. If we can stop dog populations from increasing and encourage people to feed their dogs and not let them roam free, we can prevent unnecessary dog deaths, as well as help improve the quality of life for dogs and villagers alike.
Zafira is currently with Jim again, has started putting on weight and is back to her happy, healthy self. We are looking for a new home for her and will continue monitoring her brothers and sisters over the coming weeks and months, to make sure that the adoptive families are taking care of them properly.