Imagine a world with no stray animals at all. Wouldn’t that be nice? It may sound utopian, but it isn’t impossible to achieve. In the Netherlands, there are no stray dogs. How did they do it?
The Netherlands became a country with no stray dogs thanks to their extensive sterilization program. In addition, the government introduced laws to protect animal welfare. Currently, the Netherlands claims to have zero stray dogs and most pets owned by its citizens are adopted.
The World Health Organisation estimates that there are around 600 million homeless dogs in the world. But thanks to changes in legislation, mainly sterilisation programs, the Netherlands has become the first country with no stray dogs at all. The Dutch government has been working hard to achieve that. Hopefully, other countries will follow suit.
Has It Been Always Like That?
Not really. In the beginning of the 19th century, the number of dog owners increased drastically. Back then, owning a dog or more than one was regarded as being from an upper social class. The wealthy owned many dogs as pets or for sports. These dogs were usually groomed and well fed. Poorer families, on the other hand, often had dogs for work and kept them on the streets.
During this time, a dog tax was implemented in order to regulate the number of stray dogs. However, the dog tax backfired. In the 19th century, the Netherlands was struggling with a rabies epidemic. As a result, people who were afraid of getting the disease or couldn’t afford the cost of a veterinary started abandoning their pets. Unfortunately, dog abandonment was legal these days.
Soon the number of stray dogs kept multiplying and suddenly the government had to step in and make some changes. They were concerned about both – the welfare of homeless pets, as well as the potential health issues they could spread. The first Dutch animal protection agency got to work in 1864. 13 years later the first canine shelter opened. In 1962, the government introduced the Animal Protection Act. Ever since then, animal rights have been at the forefront of the Netherlands’ social issues. Animal abuse is not taken lightly. Perpetrators are subject to a fine equivalent to $18,539 and up to three years in jail!
So How Did They Do It?
Not only did the government take on the issue with full force but many cities imposed massive taxes on store-bought dogs. Naturally, this drove many people to adopt dogs from shelters instead, freeing up space for strays to be taken in. They also started a program called Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return, or CNVR for short. This is a nationwide program funded by the government that provides neuters, spays, and vaccines for strays. After implementing such legislations in 2016, it took little time to sterilize approximately 70% of the female dog population in the country.
And if that wasn’t enough, the government also created a police force just for animals. The officers on the force respond to crimes against animals and assist in animal rescue. There is also the Party for the Animals which focuses on animal rights and welfare.
“…there is a direct link between violence against animals and violence against humans,” says Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for the Animals.
Who Is Considered a Stray Dog?
According to Dutch Review, this is how the Netherlands defines a stray dog:
- Free-roaming dogs with an owner: They have an owner but the owner lets the dog run partially free throughout the day.
- Free-roaming dogs without an owner: Dogs that are abandoned by owners.
- Community dogs: They don’t have one owner but are cared for by a community.
- Feral dogs: The dog is not cared for by anyone and survives on its own.
Stray Dogs as an Ethical Issue
The Netherlands views stray dogs not only as a hazard to the health and safety of humans but also as an ethical and moral problem for society. They recognize the cruelty to the dogs and the emotional toll it takes on humans to see dogs hungry, sick, or even dead.
Is The Country Dog-Friendly?
Absolutely! Dutch people are insanely crazy about their pets. They take their puppies with them while cycling. Almost all the restaurants and cafes are dog-friendly. What is more, pets can ride on public transport (accompanied by their owners, of course) for a reduced price. On top of that, dog adoption is strongly encouraged. There are over 200 dog shelters in the Netherlands. All of them abide to a no-kill code.
In the 200 years since it started, the Netherlands government has come a long way in its animal welfare efforts. Nearly 90% of people in the Netherlands have welcomed a dog into their family. This means that approximately one million dogs now have homes and families filled with treats and belly rubs!