Stray dogs are the true underdogs of street life. Just as homeless people, everyone feels sorry for them, but few are likely to have the means, time, interest, or wish to do something about it. In Kurosawa’s “Stray Dog”, the cult Japanese black and white film from 1949, the stray dog is the pickpocket who faces punishment after he steals the cop’s gun, causing detectives to face their dark shadows of a feral dog while on the chase to catch the criminal himself. People dislike, fear, or even hate stray dogs, criminals, and homeless people not only because of the damage they cause but also because they are not willing to face their own shadows. Truth be told, demonizing society’s outcasts is a sort of a vicious circle. Their rejection breeds their homelessness and the attributes and behaviors we are not ready to shed a light on or embrace on a collective level.
Understanding stray dogs is not easy, mostly because we don’t understand dogs and animals in general. Another reason is that we don’t fully understand ourselves and view the world from an anthropocentric perspective. Rather than being helpful, our human-centered approach is often an obstacle to understanding stray dogs. Although we think we know a lot about the stray dog behavior, we have plenty to learn, at least when facts and figures come into consideration.
Stray Dog Facts and Figures to Contemplate
In the United States,1.6 million dogs find their forever homes each year. It sounds optimistic, doesn’t it? For a well-rounded picture, though, maybe we need to look at this number combined with some other stray dogs statistics. We rarely have a realistic interpretation of the stray dog problem.
Here are some estimates about stray dogs that will give you a fuller idea of the issues with street dogs:
- 6.5 million animals enter U.S. shelters each year
- 3.3 million of them are dogs
- 670,000 dogs are euthanized each year 😦
- 620,000 dogs that enter shelters are returned to their owners each year
- 44% of the households already have a dog 🙂
With as many street dogs roaming on the streets, no wonder it is difficult to solve the stray dog problem. Yet instead of trying to remove all dogs from the streets at a pace that’s close to impossible, we could do something else: we could understand street dogs better.
Why Domesticated Dogs Stray?
Dogs stray for many reasons. Unless the dog is born on the street, most of these reasons are associated with unmet needs in the current environment.
For example, dogs can get distracted by uncommon smells or, if male, by a female in heat. Dogs have a very good nose, 40 times stronger than the human sense of smell. Therefore, if you find your dog wanders into the wild for reasons that are not obvious to you, the escape is likely to be connected to an attractive smell.
Another common reason for home dogs to venture out into the streets is because they haven’t been sufficiently stimulated in their current homes. Something else got their attention from the outside and they just went for it.
Sadly, abuse and neglect is also a reason for dogs to leave their abodes. When this happens, dogs are not only suffering because of the new environment, but also due to the stress suffered with their owners.
How do Stray Dogs Survive?
Once domesticated, stray dogs have poorer chances of survival than dogs born in the street, growing as such.
This doesn’t mean that street dogs are necessarily better equipped to handle street life by nature. Unfortunately, it often means that only the most resilient or the luckiest survived, in line with “the survival of the fittest”.
Stray dogs rely on human leftovers or intentional human care to give them food while roaming in the street. They have to find shelter, sometimes fighting for it with other animals, often sharing it with homeless people. 5 to 10 percent of all 3.5 million homeless people in the U.S. own either a dog or a cat.
A dog’s love is pure – they don’t choose who to love by looks or social status. For a homeless person, a deep bond that develops with a canine is a sort of comfort. In a broken system, the love of stray dogs is a bright star.
The bond between a homeless person and a dog is a prove of the ancient adage: ”When there is a will, there is a way.” Having to share so little, homeless people still find a piece to share with their dog.
Regardless of how unwilling we are to accept the shadows of society, we have plenty to learn from them.
Many stray dogs survived exactly because a homeless person decided to give them the love a mansion owner never did.
Stray Dog Behavior
Dogs left roaming on the streets depend much more on their survival instincts. They can be either playful and friendly, or fearful, anxious, and aggressive.
Aggression arises out of fear, and fear arises from pain. If you think that stray dogs can display unpredictable behavior, you are right.
Nevertheless, they deserve to approach them with caution that involves compassion for their pain. You can use their body language to assess the situation:
When encountering stray dogs, don’t assume that the dog is aggressive and act out of fear yourself causing even greater trouble.
For the several dog bites that you’ve read about on the web or in a newspaper, there are thousands even millions of happy encounters with stray dogs no one reports about.
Do Free-ranging Dogs Have Social Skills?
Dogs are incredibly sensitive to social cues, as several studies performed on stray dogs have confirmed.
Dogs don’t need to have been house pooches to understand whether you approach them in a friendly or unfriendly way. To survive, they tend to maximize collaboration and minimize conflict. A simple threatening gesture works much better with dogs than with humans. It is not difficult that, thanks to the dog’s ability to secure food resources, the treat-based training results in such success.
Having in mind how easy it is to befriend dogs, it is disheartening to see so many stray dogs being euthanized because of irresponsible humans.
We cannot solve all the world’s problems all at once, including the stray dog problem. What we can do is do more about understanding stray dogs and domesticated pooches, as well.
A good place to start is thinking about compassion and collaboration, instead of conflict and control.
This is one area in which dogs have advanced knowledge, it seems – the people’s superior aggression above all other species is the reason why we rule and destroy the planet. It’s time to apply more of the superior awareness skills, too, if we have them at all.
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