Homelessness is a huge problem for animals all over the world. There’s no way to exactly count how many stray dogs there are But the World Health Organization estimates that about 200 million around the globe do not have a home.
What’s more, there’s no real easy solution to this problem. As stray dogs continue to have babies, the world is simply unequipped to handle the sheer influx of them. Sadly, that means having a home and a family isn’t going to happen for the vast majority of pups.
In the U.S., advocates have wondered how to address the growing stray dog population, which many cities simply cannot handle.
“This problem has escalated to the point where it would take decades of a concentrated spay-neuter program in a city like Houston to begin to reduce the numbers,” said Peter Zheutlin, a rescue dog advocate. “The shelters are not often high priorities for governments either when they’ve got competing demands from the school department, the police department, the fire department, parks, sanitation. Who speaks for the dogs?”
But amazingly, one country has broken records, becoming the first country in the world to bring its homeless dog population down to zero.
Holland was facing a big challenge. Its dog population had grown exponentially. Owning a dog has been extremely popular in Holland since at least the 19th century. Its link as a status symbol eventually led to almost every household owning at least one canine.
But rabies outbreaks led to dog ownership rapidly becoming less popular, and many owners abandoned their dogs in the streets.
Dutch officials eventually decided it was time to crack down.
They worried not just about the potential health problems that stray animals can spread, but also about the life, health, and happiness of the dogs themselves.
Their first step? Implement a country-wide sterilization program. In time, 70 percent of female strays throughout the country were spayed, drastically cutting down on the birth rate. Every dog that was brought it for sterilization was also given a medical exam and brought up-to-date on any vaccinations needed. This, too, was instrumental in cutting back on the spread of diseases like rabies and parvovirus.
After that, the Dutch government passed laws to improve animal rights and protect their health.
These laws include punishments for animal abuse and neglect, with perpetrators earning as much as three years in prison and or more than $16,000 in fines.
They also raised taxes on store-bought dogs to encourage adopting rescue dogs from shelters.
But that’s not all. Since then, the Dutch have established an animal police force, responsible for investigating animal neglect and rescuing pets from dangerous situations.
“Animals — and our entire society — need the animal police,” said Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for the Animals. “There is a direct link between violence against animals and violence against humans.”
In the meantime, the government ran an energetic campaign to encourage adoption and fight against animal abuse.
Nowadays, roughly 90 percent of Dutch residents own a dog, having taken a million of them off the streets.
It’s a happy ending for dogs in Holland. But it’s a happy ending for humans, too, who now get to enjoy the friendship of their canine companions.
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