In many countries of the world, it is commonplace to see stray dogs roaming the streets, and our first reaction may be to wonder where the owners are and how they can let their dogs wander freely and unsupervised. Unlike here, where the odd dog may run loose, street dogs live their lives out on their own or in packs, fending for themselves without a family to go home to.
These unconfined canines may be pets that have strayed from or are abandoned by their owners or may be feral animals that have never been owned. They may be purebreds or mixed breeds whose population keeps increasing due to the lack of spaying and neutering.
Without proper shelter and food, not to mention veterinary care, they rely on the benevolence of local citizens who will toss them a scrap of food but are often chased away, sometimes violently, and treated like pests rather than pets. Good-natured tourists, locals, and some restaurant owners will often save uneaten food for these dogs and find that they have repeat customers who will wait by a door or follow someone who has fed them before.
A little bit of temporary love, perhaps, but not a permanent solution for these unwanted and unvaccinated canines who, when fighting amongst themselves or trying to mate, may bite and attack humans who invade their space.
At Animatch, we take in many dogs from various countries around the world as well as northern Quebec, other Canadian provinces, and the U.S. as we liaise with reputable rescue organizations that share the same goal we do — and that is to find homes for dogs that otherwise may meet an early and avoidable demise. Yet, it is not an automatic transition from street to family home for some of these dogs and many steps have to be followed before they are ready to live a domesticated life. Some may have interacted with humans before, but many are fearful and do not trust the human hand that wants to help them.
Prior to arriving here, these dogs are vaccinated as per Canadian requirements and assessed as best as possible and while many are calm and settle in quickly, others may want to flee the unfamiliar surroundings they now find themselves in. Also, many females arrive pregnant and have their pups at the adoption centre, thus delaying their placement in a home until they have finished nursing. The pups are often easier to place as they have no street cred and are like blank slates that are easier to train.
People wishing to adopt dogs that have known no home before must realize they have a lot of work to do before their new pup knows the rules of the household. Families with very small children and cats are often not chosen for these dogs as their prey instinct can be hazardous to smaller life forms. Toilet training also has to be addressed as these dogs have never had any restrictions as to where they can relieve themselves.
Some people believe that adopting a street dog will end up being an overwhelming experience as they can be viewed as wild and untrainable, which is an unfair assessment. Dogs rescued from puppy mills, and even those from reputable breeders can also be a challenge to integrate into a home and one has to be prepared to do the work no matter the animal’s origins.
Sadly, the reality is that a small fraction of dogs, no matter the breed or life history, may be deemed unadoptable, but this determination is only made after all avenues have been exhausted with respect to training and proper placement. They are simply hardwired to reject, sometimes aggressively, any human interaction and very difficult decisions have to be made. It is rare but there is not always a happy ending.
But for the vast majority of street dogs and all abandoned dogs surrendered to rescue organizations, you, the adopter, are their happy ending. From the street to curled up contentedly at your feet, make it so.
Judie Amyot is a volunteer with Animatch, a non-profit dog adoption service.