Reckless Abandon: The Universal Problem of the Stray Dog
The term potcake sounds like a stress relieving pastry one might have with one’s tea, but it’s the name for stray dogs found on the Caicos and Turks Islands and the Bahamas. The actual origin of the name has to do with the crust of rice and pea mixture that forms at the bottom of the cooking pot when preparing that meal. People in the Bahamas would feed these wandering dogs the mixture and the name became so associated with them that it stuck. Officially the dogs are called the Royal Bahamian Potcake.
Potcakes are about 45-50 pounds when in good health, have floppy ears and a pronounced snout like a shepherd. They make great companions when adopted but may have a tendency to wander. They come in many colors, with short hair.
In New Providence in the Bahamas, there are about 11,000 strays. According to Wikipedia, 1% of tourists visiting there said they were “turned off” by the dogs. There’s always that one jerk, isn’t there? At the time of this writing, the potcake dogs declined to comment on whether the tourist’s pasty body in a Hawaiian print shirt was a turn off.
Efforts to reduce the potcake population have included such extreme measures as having police shoot and poison the stray dogs. Rescue groups have developed to tackle the issue, including Potcake Place www.potcakeplace.com/home.
I spent some time on the beach in Puerto Rico with a little tribe of stray dogs. They were of various sizes and shapes. They were friendly and affectionate, but they all seemed rather washed out as if bleached by the sun, making their sad, dark eyes stand out like polished onyx. Their coats were dry and brittle and flecked with dandruff.
It is estimated there could be a million strays in Puerto Rico and there are accompanying rescue groups trying to mitigate the problem. All Sato Rescue http://allsatorescue.org is one. On their site they have some action items the public can do to help, including making complaints to the tourism department, a valuable aspect of the Puerto Rican economy, for a humane solution to the problem. In these overwhelmed communities, though, I shudder to think of the options.
Another issue is the shipping of strays from other territories and countries directly to the United States. A dog breeder critic of mine who was unhappy with animal rescue organizations in general, pointed out that he does “not support the ‘throwaway’ society that promotes and glamorizes the ‘saving of poor unloved dogs’ that irresponsible breeding and importation of foreign dogs to US shelters produce.” Does he have a point? I mean, no doubt he’s kind of a tool, but is shipping dogs here a bit like putting a used bandage on someone else’s wound? We are not a kill free country so there must be a better answer and it boggles great minds.
Man's Best Friend
In her blog entry, Dr. Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary, describes the dynamic between homeless men and dogs on the beaches of Puerto Rico. She describes them as “cross-species interactions.” The men and dogs gather together by night. The men protect the dogs from removal sweeps by authorities. By day they go their own ways, but each night gather again into these protective huddles to sleep or at least spend time until daybreak.
There are spay and neuter voucher programs in Puerto Rico, but the need is so great they are simply overwhelmed. And if people cannot afford to put food on the table, how could they entertain the feeding and vet bills of a dog? Dr. King’s blog addresses the problems of humans and animals as interlaced, calling for compassionate solutions to these issues with all beings in mind.
Soi Dog (Street Dog)
In Bangkok, Thailand, it is estimated there are over 120,000 stray dogs. Buddhist principles come into play against euthanasia, but the practice of turning a dog out into the street for natural forces to take over is practiced regularly.
Prior to major events in the community, great roundups occur in which they gather up dogs by the thousands and send them to shelters, or animal quarantine centers out of sight and mind. Efforts by the government to solve the problem by way of requiring pet owners to register and microchip their dogs and fining owners if their animals are found wandering, backfired miserably. These punitive methods cause non-compliance because in order to avoid fines, people under stress simply abandon their animals.
Historically, attaching fees or penalties to dog ownership increases the stray problem in that area.
A rescue organization trying to help is Soi Dog Rescue: www.soidog.org.
Initially this was a generic term for a wandering, scavenging dog. However, the Indian Pariah Dog
refers to a rust colored, dingo-like dog prominent in South Asia. This dog has risen in status and is accepted as an increasingly desirable breed, with its sharp, intelligent eyes and pointy ears.
India has the highest number of strays in the world. Millions of people are attacked and bitten each year with some estimates of the resulting rabies death rate as high as 35,000 people annually. Walking your dog in India is rather like walking a chunk of beef jerky on a stick. Family dogs are surrounded and killed as their humans helplessly watch, unable to fight off the marauding canines. Needless to say, the problem is vexing. (Photo to right: An animal rescuer tourist spends a happy moment with a friendly stray)
Addressing the human/animal cohabitation issue, Arpan Sharma, chief executive of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations told New Delhi Journal reporter Gardiner Harris, “The first thing you need to start doing to reduce the stray population is manage your garbage better.”
Hindus oppose the killing of many animals, removing the euthanasia option for much of the population. Proponents of euthanasia point to the fact that people should be able to walk the streets without fear of attack and death.
It’s a quandary, and a universal one.
Conversely, in Holland, there is no stray dog problem, so we didn’t know what to call this section.
“Dogs” will have to suffice. They have dogs, but not a problem. There are no “Wooden Shoe” dogs begging for porridge or feral “Windmill Dogs” being a nuisance by chasing grazing sheep around.
In a detailed paper on the subject (link below), Isabelle Sternheim reveals how Holland is nearly completely stray free.
Like India, Holland had a stray dog problem that resulted in rabies outbreaks. In the 1800's many families owned dogs and when they tired of them they were released onto the streets. Rabies was a call to action and strict muzzle and leash laws were quickly put into place. Regulations and taxes came into play and failed. Poverty was the main culprit in the Holland dog problem.
Soon, however, Holland’s elite began to spread the connection between the appearance and health of the dog and the status of the dog’s owner. Animal welfare began to increase. Holland ushered in the dog-as-status-symbol in the mid 1860's (forerunner to the chihuahua-in-handbag days of more recent yore). In 1886 animal abuse became a punishable offense.
Adherence to the culture’s respect of “personal liberties rather than universalism” instilled in the Dutch people a strong acceptance of individual differences among people. They were, after all, as the author explains, “a small country that had to get by through interaction with other cultures.” She says that the “empathy and observation” practiced by people of the Netherlands was a survival mechanism that soon became rooted in their collective psyche. This empathy included a concern for the well being of animals. Interestingly, Sternheim calls these practices “feminine” elements of their society, and says they are highly valued along with “caring, collectiveness, and separation of work and private life.”
Isabelle Sternheim makes a case for CNVR: Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return. She argues that even impoverished societies can manage this strategy if used alongside education and registration campaigns.
And here in the US we have our collections of problems as well, some of which seem so
trivial when held against the global backdrop of the Stray Dog as it relates to humankind, but some that are shared down to the finest detail. We do our best to encourage our brothers and sisters around the world not to eat dogs, to be kind to animals, but have no solution for starvation and poverty, and are often woefully unkind to one another. We so often fall short of practicing what many of us sometimes arrogantly preach. But there are slivers of light along the way. Aren't we all just strays anyway, seeking a sense of belonging and security?
Critics attack those "bleeding heart dog rescuers" as ignoring the human problem, but each grain of sadness is directly connected to the other. There are enough problems for us to battle together, each using our own special strengths and passions to chip away slowly at the things that plague us.
Links in order: