By Jane Bauer
‘Do not feed stray dogs and cats.’ I recently posted this opinion on a thread and received a snappy comment from someone who called me cold-hearted and that they couldn’t believe we had friends in common, as though who would be friends with someone who wouldn’t feed stray animals.
While I have seen our community grow, I have seen the stray animal population grow as well.
Different cultures have varied standards for how they regard different animals. In Ecuador eating guinea pigs is a norm, while in the US and Canada they are regarded as pets. While much of the world considers dogs and cats as pets rather than food, there are still many countries where they straddle into the food category. In the Philippines dog meat is the third most popularly consumed meat after pork and goat. In Vietnam fried cat meat and beer is a popular dish in Hanoi. When I was in Switzerland, I was surprised to find Canadian horse meat on offer at the local grocery store. In India cows are considered sacred and not-food, in fact, there are entire towns that are vegetarian. All this to say that there is a wide spectrum of cultural divide in how animals are treated.
While in North America (Canada, US, Mexico) cats and dogs are non-food, there are discrepancies with how they are cared for. For many, pets become a part of our family, they are treated like children that are helpless and require human care for all their needs. For others, they are nice to have, but they also serve the purpose of protection, status or keeping other unwanted critters away.
As the coast has become more developed there are some wonderful organizations that have done amazing work with spay and neuter clinics to help keep the dogs and cats from overpopulation. This is very important because overpopulation of stray animals can lead to pack mentality, they can carry disease and take a toll on the other wildlife.
Then there is the feeding. Each morning during the tourist season as I drive into work, I see a blond woman putting out bowls of food in front of her condo, a pack of dogs cluster around her and she looks very pleased with herself. However, for the rest of the year these dogs roam the neighborhood looking for humans to feed them and have been known to get aggressive.
I recently pulled up to Chahue beach for a sunrise meditation and witnessed a man surrounded by about thirty cats as he doled out kibble, the cats were practically clambering up his legs. While I am sure he believed he was doing a good deed, science would tell you he was not.
Feeding stray animals causes them to congregate in small areas where they are at greater risk from car traffic. If they are not fed by humans, they will expand their search for food and spread out. Cats or dogs hanging out in one spot means they will poop in one spot. If this is an area where people walk their domesticated pets or children play, they are at risk for a variety of zoonotic diseases. Stray cats that are fed by humans are more likely to breed. One study found that stray cats NOT fed by people have smaller litters and lower kitten survival rate. Long-term feeding makes animals dependent on humans and contributes to breeding.
“Sure, some animals do need our help as we often need theirs. But most of them are doing perfectly well on their own and our failure to recognize that not only undermines their natural instincts and intelligence, but can also send us down the rabbit hole of martyrdom and hero syndrome which we can all do without.” Rubaiya Ahmad, founder of Obhoyaronno – Bangladesh Animal Welfare Foundation which is leading the charge for animals in Bangladesh.
So why do people feed stray animals? Check your own bias and needs that are being filled by this act. I have sponsored two spay and neuter clinics in my village and have been asked by many people ‘but why do white people steal dogs.’ Seeing a dog off a leash does not mean it is homeless. If you want to help animals I suggest making a donation to an organization that does spay and neuter clinics.
And why dogs and cats? There are many animals that can use our help. Save marine life by not using sunscreen when you swim or go vegan. Save a chicken, and bring it home with you to Calgary. Studies have shown that chickens feel empathy, experience REM dreams, are behaviorally sophisticated, and demonstrate thinking skills on par with mammals and primates.
A good rule of thumb I use before feeding a stray animal is to ask myself whether I am willing to domesticate it all the way. This means to provide housing, regular food, spaying/neutering, and vaccinations over the course of its lifetime. If the answer is no, walk away.
The best way to help street animals is to financially support organizations that perform free spay and neuter clinics.