Cats and dogs are the most popular pets in every country we have visited. In many Latin American countries, stray dogs were common. They were not feral, so they were most likely abandoned. In some cases the dogs would form packs. While gathering in packs may have provided social contact, it did little to provide sustenance. It was still every dog for itself.
Some expat communities have helped fund spay and neuter services. We observed this in some locations in Chile, Panama, and Mexico. There are now branches of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in a number of countries. They do wonderful work, but they are vastly underfunded for the scale of challenges they face. Although I think citizens of emerging nations appreciate the benefits of animal controls, I do not think it is a priority. Locals who live on sustenance-level incomes cannot afford to consider animal welfare ahead of their priority of feeding and caring for family members first.
Here is my rant. Many expats bring their dogs with them when they relocate to another country. Particularly in Spain, I have noticed few people, locals or expats, clean up their pets’ poop. There are stinky little land mines everywhere. You would not dare walk on the grass in a park for fear of stepping in a pile of poop. A picnic blanket on the grass would be a ridiculous fantasy.
I love animals. They are not the problem. Their owners are the problem, a serious enough problem that a national campaign to get dog walkers to pick up after their dogs is underway in Spain. Posters in bus stop shelters show dogs imploring people to do the task the dogs cannot do for themselves – pick up their poop. Some cities have employed local ‘poop patrols’, service workers who have acquired the unfortunate nickname of ‘brownshirts’, a reference to Hitler’s pro-Nazi storm troopers. Just last week the local papers reported the first fine levied on a dog owner for failure to pick up after his pet. This was a second offense. I believe the first offense is a warning and subsequent offenses carry a €100 fine equivalent to $137.
In most cities in Spain, stray cats are an issue. These mangy, dirty and often diseased felines can be spotted under parked cars around markets, dumpsters and places wherever people toss scraps. One local here in Torrevieja found an injured cat that had obviously been hit by a vehicle. He mercifully took the cat to a local veterinarian to have it put down to end its suffering. The vet performed this task and then billed the guy €160, over $200. When he protested the cost which he grudgingly paid, the vet’s receptionist told him, ‘We are not a charity. If we did not charge for this service, we would be inundated with animals.’
I can wring my hands and feel indignant about the poor treatment of cats and dogs in some countries. However, the fact remains that not all societies think of domestic animals as members of the family. To many they are just animals, and if they do not have a caring owner they are nothing more than a nuisance. It is sad to think about, but it is not something that will go away anytime soon. The best we can do is to encourage responsible pet ownership. That is true in every country including our own.