By Ralph Quinonez
While the number of homeless dogs varies by country, the problem is of worldwide concern.
Stray dogs typically live shorter lives and frequently suffer injury, illness and abuse. And the efforts and approaches to control the homeless dog populations vary widely. These may include catch-and-detain in high-kill shelters, culling (mass killing) by various means, spay and neuter campaigns, or simply just ignoring the problem.
Often frustrated with the lack of action of governing bodies to address the problem, many individuals and organizations around the world have stepped forward to work on behalf of the homeless dogs.
Here are the stories of four animal advocates who are working daily to make a difference for the homeless pets in their country.
One such individual working to remedy the stray dog problem in Myanmar is Terryl Just, the founder and operator of the Yangon Animal Shelter in Yangon, Myanmar.
Just, an American woman teaching at the International School Yangon, began her commitment to the homeless dogs of the city after an incident with a stray dog near her home.
“I had been feeding a stray dog for a year,” Just says. “Then one day I found her poisoned; I felt like I had to do something.”
In partnership with a fellow teacher, Just founded the Yangon Animal Shelter in 2012, which quickly grew and now provides shelter and care for about 550 rescue dogs.
Just employs 10 local workers to perform the daily tasks of feeding, bathing and watching over dogs at the shelter. A veterinarian also volunteers twice a week to provide necessary medical care, vaccinations and spay/neuter surgeries for each rescue dog.
As she receives no government funding, Just relies on donations and the work of volunteers. “We get calls every day from people who want to donate,” Just jokingly says. “But they want to donate a dog!”
The Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) estimates Yangon’s stray dog population in 2016 to be 200,000. With such high numbers of homeless dogs in the city, Just says that her main goal is to control this problem by bringing in outside organizations to perform trap, neuter and release (TNR) of the stray dogs.
One such organization is the Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS), a charity based in the United Kingdom.
“We have a relationship with Worldwide Veterinary Services (WVS) in Chiang Mai, which is a UK-based charity,” explained Natalie Mathiasen, a long-term shelter volunteer. “WVS would like to support mass sterilization campaigns here, provided that their TNR protocol is used.”
In order to facilitate help from organizations such as WVS, Just cites campaigns against mass dog poisoning as a top priority.
You can help by making a donation to help the Yangon Animal Shelter in their efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome the stray dogs of Myanmar.
The popular tourist destination of Costa Rica also struggles with an abundance of homeless animals. Asociación de Rescate Animal, a Costa Rican animal welfare organization, estimates about 2 million strays roam the streets at any given time.
Scott Alan Bradley, a California native, moved to Costa Rica and opened two restaurants, both located in the popular tourist destination of La Fortuna. Behind his home in the lush Costa Rican rainforest, Bradley operates a compound for the rescue and rehabilitation of stray dogs. His main goal is to place these rescued strays into permanent, loving homes, with many going to the United States and Canada.
Harboring about 70 rescue dogs at any time, Bradley relies on two paid employees and volunteers for the shelter’s daily operations.
The volunteer experience includes caring for the dogs and taking them out for a hike in the nearby countryside. A $60 donation includes a T-shirt, tropical smoothie, lunch and transport to the shelter from Bradley’s restaurant in La Fortuna. For $30 a volunteer receives a tropical smoothie and transport from the restaurant to the shelter.
“We do more psychological work with the dogs,” Bradley says. “We keep them from fighting; they know my voice. We have to keep the noise down; it’s a beautiful area and I have neighbors.”
Bradley partners with Bark ’N’ Bitches, a Los Angeles-based retail shop and rescue, to facilitate the adoption of his dogs in the United States. He also adopts out many dogs internationally, as tourists come to visit the shelter and fall in love with their forever friend.
“The dogs are rehabbed here prior to adopting out,” Bradley explains. “They get used to routines like feeding, walking and bathing.”
One of Bradley’s ultimate goals is to have a community veterinary center to better care for the local pet population, where people with an inability to pay would simply volunteer for their pet to receive treatment.
You can help by donating, making a purchase from the Costa Rica Dog Rescue shop, escorting dogs to and from the US or volunteering at the rescue center.
The city of Cartagena, Colombia, is now a popular tourist destination, but as in many Latin American cities, Cartagena has an abundance of stray dogs. To make matters worse, the city doesn’t have an animal shelter.
Dr. Ingrid Hernandez Soto, a Cartagena veterinarian, saw the need to care for the homeless dogs of the city. She founded the FRAD foundation (La Fundación Rescate para Animales Desamparados) in 1996, a community veterinarian clinic and animal shelter.
“There are many cases of abandoned and injured animals, with little means of helping them,” Dr. Hernandez Soto explains. “[There is] much cruelty in the city; a dog might be passing by and have hot oil thrown on them, for example.”
The lack of a municipal shelter often leads to overcrowded conditions at the foundation.
“People often leave dogs and cats outside in boxes,” Dr. Hernandez Soto says. “Or throw them over the fence.”
The shelter is not limited to housing homeless street dogs. It’s currently home to about 267 dogs, 110 cats and four donkeys.
As with many other nonprofit groups, FRAD receives no help from the city or government and relies on donations and the work of volunteers.
In addition to offering shelter, food and veterinary care to the rescued animals, FRAD also engages in spay/neuter and educational campaigns throughout the city.
“We work with various colleges, speaking to them about responsible dog ownership and humane treatment of animals,” Dr. Hernandez Soto says.
FRAD also works with the rescue organizations Cartagena Paws and Colombia Animal Rescue to facilitate the rehoming of the rescue dogs. Many of the rehabilitated strays are flown to the United States and other countries around the world.
Soy Callejerito, which means, “I am a little street wanderer,” is a small shelter operating in the popular tourist destination of Cuzco, Peru.
The shelter was founded in 2003 by Anjelo Espejo and Maite Carreno Flores, two friends who live in the city. Normally housing about 100 dogs, Soy Callejerito operates through donations and the help of volunteers.
“I use my money … Maite uses her money for work in the shelter. It goes for food, for a veterinarian, but it’s not a lot of money,” Espejo explains. “In one month to support the shelter I use 6 to 7000 Soles (about $2000 US); it’s expensive.”
Many of the dogs that the pair rescues from the streets of Cuzco have suffered illness or injury, which makes finding affordable veterinary care a challenge.
“It’s difficult finding a veterinarian here in Cuzco because there is no university,” Espejo says. “There are 8 vets here in Cuzco, but they are very expensive.”
As Cuzco draws tourists from all over the world on the way to Machu Picchu, the shelter hosts many international volunteers. The volunteer duties include feeding, bathing and walking the dogs, as well as cleaning out the living quarters.
Sometimes a volunteer may fall in love with one of the dogs, choose to adopt him and fly him home.
“I have dogs in a lot of parts of the world,” Espejo proudly says.
Espejo described the process of taking a dog out of Peru as fairly easy. “It only takes a plane ticket, microchip and certificate from a veterinarian. It’s not expensive,” Espejo explains. “For me, the most important thing is that it changes the life for the dog.”
“All dogs deserve to change their life,” Espejo says. “In the shelter, it’s not the best life, but it’s good. There is food, love and attention. But all dogs need a family; all dogs are special.”
Although each of these rescue groups provide food, water and shelter for homeless dogs, they also try to find forever homes for them. Most importantly, these rescue groups all seem to understand the importance of reducing the stray dog population by use of some manner of spay and neuter.
With the help of these and other organizations, one day we may no longer have a need to recognize International Homeless Animals’ Day.