Monday, November 21, 2011

Stray Dogs and Cats in Ukraine

Many visitors to Ukraine will notice the fairly large numbers of stray cats and dogs in population centers, both in central areas and parks and around the outskirts of towns. I think there are four reasons why this may be the case.

  1. Perhaps the main reason is that there are large amounts of edible waste around. This is what probably first attracted wolves to human settlements where they began to get used to humans and eventually became domesticated. In Ukraine as in other countries large amounts of food are thrown away, and garbage collection is often slow and/or incomplete. This readily available source of food will end up feeding somebody, whether it's rats, cats, or dogs. I don't recall ever seeing rats in Ukraine. Perhaps that's because of the large numbers of stray cats and dogs. I saw rats in Oslo, but no stray dogs. Rats are much harder to liquidate.

  2. Many Ukrainians are lenient with their pets. They like to let them off their leashes during walks so that they can run around freely. People who own private homes often let their dogs off their leash, perhaps for improved home security or perhaps to allow the dog to forage for itself, saving them some food expense. People in rural areas or dachas often never put their dogs on leashes in the first place, and they roam around freely and do "who knows what" during their nightly patrols around the neighborhood. The same goes for cats in districts with private homes or dachas. This behavior on the part of pet owners ensures a steady stream of escaped animals or animals born in the wild that then become part of the stray animal community. Occasionally owners may consciously release their pets because they are unable or unwilling to care for them, but I believe this happens less frequently.

  3. By not becoming official caretakers of pets, property owners can enjoy all the benefits of having a pet without the responsibility. For instance, a lumberyard or similar industrial lot can simply allow some local stray dogs to hang around on their lot and occasionally give them something to eat, and they will effectively enjoy all the benefits of canine security without feeling obligated to do anything for the dogs (take care of their health, etc.). People in a dacha cooperative might see a cute kitten playing in their yard one day and start offering it food so that they can pet it, play with it, and watch it grow. If they leave for the week, they don't have to leave food for the kitten, knowing that it has other sources and isn't limited to their plot alone and that it will visit them the following weekend when they come back.

  4. For whatever reasons, local governments usually do not do much to enforce official regulations regarding pet ownership or deal with the stray animal situation until someone is seriously mauled or even bitten to death or catches rabies. When something like this happens, temporary solutions are usually pursued, such as rounding up a particular pack of stray dogs (usually only part of the pack, as the rest escape).