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What’s to Be Done About Urban Strays?

Will Doig’s column “The Secret Lives of Feral Dogs” (Slate, 1/17/12) opens with a jolt: the revelation that Harrisburg, Penn., police officers have been instructed to stop bringing strays into the city shelter and, among other options, shoot them instead. It’s a shocking development, something you might expect to read about in the developing world, not here.

But despite all the dog spas and yappy hours in the U.S., there is a fast-growing population of stray and feral dogs and cats in our urban centers, especially collapsing Rust Belt cities. These cities have a host of problems and a lack of money that pushes stray animals down the priority list. When there are no easy, inexpensive or quick solutions to a problem that can become dangerous for citizens, the unthinkable becomes not only thinkable but official policy.

I first came to understand the extent of the problem when I wrote about Gateway Pet Guardians (Bark, Sept/Oct 2010), a handful of volunteers who feed, spay and release (when they can) and/or find homes for some of the many strays in East St. Louis, Ill. The tales of flea- and tick-infested and malnourished strays living in a landscape of fallendown buildings, burned-out houses and urban prairie was heart-wrenching.

Until then, I’d understood the homeless dog issue in terms of individual surrenders of dogs at shelters, dogs taken in puppy mill raids and lost dogs. I hadn’t ever appreciated the role played by these urban feral packs. Nor their unique challenges.

As long-term street dogs, many are not adoptable. Trap-neuter-release programs may help slow the population growth but they leave dogs in conditions where they are very likely to suffer and may injure people. I appreciate Doig’s bringing the situation to our attention but I wish there was more to be said about solutions.

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com
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Submitted by Carolyn | January 19 2012 |

"As long-term street dogs, many are not adoptable. "

Is that because they grew up on the streets and are not human-socialized adequately (as experienced here in Belize)? Health issues? Just wondering as I imagined they were formerly pets perhaps "released" (or escaped) due to the dismal economic conditions in many cities. What a tragic situation.

Submitted by Abby | January 19 2012 |

Good points and thanks for bringing this up here. Also, the article was published at Salon, not Slate.

Submitted by Helen | January 19 2012 |

I'm afraid I may not be interpreting this post correctly - are you accepting the shooting of feral dogs as necessary?

Submitted by Lisa Wogan | January 19 2012 |

No. I'm definitely not advocating shooting strays. I'm just saying it's a sign of how serious the challenge is.

Submitted by Gateway Pet Gua... | March 16 2012 |

Thanks for mentioning us again, Lisa! If anyone has any questions at all about how we are dealing with the stray problem in East St. Louis, feel free to visit us on facebook and ask away! www.facebook.com/gatewaypets

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