Large numbers of roaming cats and dogs are a common sight in many urban as well as rural areas in Europe. Their health and welfare can be seriously affected directly, when the stray animals themselves live under poor conditions and indirectly, when inhumane (and ineffective) population control measures are used.
In the EU, the majority of stray dogs are abandoned by their owner or born from unsterilised owned dogs that are free to roam. Many so-called feral cats are often the offspring of previously owned pets which makes clear that as long as people own dogs and cats there will always be a need to manage their populations.
Alexandra Hammond-Seaman, International Advocacy and Policy Advisor, Chairman of the Cats and Dogs Working Group of Eurogroup for Animals said: “Identification and Registration of all cats and dogs as well as control of breeders and selling practices are paramount to successfully manage the dogs and cats population, if we don’t tackle the root of the problem we will be eternally and inefficiently dealing with its symptoms.”
Managing these dog and cat populations not only can help reduce poor animal welfare but also prevent potential public health risks (e.g. zoonotic disease transmission and bites) with their associated economic burdens. The motivation for an improved population management is clearly present through the recently introduced EU Animal Health Law and current updating of the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code Chapter 7.7.
Paolo Dalla Villa, Technical Officer-Disaster Management and Animal Welfare from the WOAH pointed out that “this Policy Guidance addresses the ethical individual and collective responsibility in dealing with dogs and cats population management stating the need to pull together towards a common goal.”
Variation and disparity in population management across the EU is significant. This policy guidance aims to help Member States in describing key principles, effective systems and division of roles and responsibilities while managing dogs and cats stray populations.
The role of national governments is key for enabling a cooperative approach among the many stakeholders, from local authorities to veterinarians, from raising awareness on responsible ownership to pushing for better legislation and enforcement. Both owned and stray dogs and cats are increasingly being moved across borders for sale and adoption which emphasises the importance of a consistent approach across EU countries.
Petras AUŠTREVIČIUS, MEP Renew Europe Group, highlighted the successful approaches of the three Case Studies presented: “it is incredible to see the amazing results of a well designed, evidence based approach as it is the case of the population management in Sofia, Bulgaria where the number of stray dogs went from 11,124 in 2007 to 3,589 in 2018 through a strategic approach that combined mass-sterilisation, rabies vaccination and free neutering for pet animals. ”
Ann Criel, Doctor of Veterinary Science and Honorary Secretary of FECAVA, suggested the opportunity to add valuable information e.g: vaccination status on the already existing microchips as a sort of electronic passport which would promote a controlled and safer cross border between States.
This Policy Guidance advocates for humane population management measures, adapted to each local population dynamics with the help of a permanent and sustainable network of services. These measures will be evidence-based, monitored and evaluated throughout their implementation and will address the root causes of the problem and avoid unplanned and reactive measures.
Members States support for this Policy Guidance will be pivotal for the stray dogs and cats welfare as much as for public health in general. Population management is not limited by national borders hence the urge in the harmonisation of current Member legislation and regulation with space for local adaptation, plus sufficient funding, training and procedural guidelines to support enforcement.