Despite an increasing need for animal welfare, and more commitment worldwide to the cause, resources devoted to it are still only a fraction of what goes into other humanitarian causes.
Worldwide, more than 17,000 animal welfare groups are listed. But many of these are from the developed world. Almost all are short of funds to a greater or lesser degree.
Homeless animals outnumber homeless people by a ratio of 5:1. At least 2.7 million dogs are killed each year because no shelters can be found for them. Statistics are scant or non-existent from many parts of the developing world. But, in the United States alone, there are an estimated 71 million stray cats. The country has 5000 animal shelters and 63% of American homes have at least one pet.
"Animal welfare is a very broad subject, and societies are devoted to the caring of a wide variety of species, including farm animals, elephants, lions, chimpanzees, and even reptiles and other ‘exotic’ animals. Generally speaking, though, it is dogs that spring to mind when people mention animal welfare, with cats a distant second."
But many dogs and cats which end up in shelters have been abandoned by their owners. It costs $2 billion in US tax payers’ money each year to house, look after, and kill stray animals. It is a sobering fact that some shelters have no choice but to kill rescued animals after some time if no homes can be found for them. It is hard to believe such pathetically sick and starving animals exist in the world’s most powerful country. Videos show owners abandoning their dogs along empty streets. Luckily, there are many people willing to rescue and help them.
In the third world, the picture is grimmer. Efforts still remain largely voluntary, with governments putting this urgent cause at the bottom of priorities. Whether it is wild life or stray dogs and cats, efforts are lacklustre. Wildlife departments are underfunded, and municipalities focus on killing strays rather than looking into their welfare. This has happened from Sri Lanka (despite an existing ban) to the Ukraine in recent times.
Animal welfare is a very broad subject, and societies are devoted to the caring of a wide variety of species, including farm animals, elephants, lions, chimpanzees, and even reptiles and other ‘exotic’ animals. Generally speaking, though, it is dogs that spring to mind when people mention animal welfare, with cats a distant second.
If we look at the plight of stray dogs and cats in Sri Lanka, municipalities are content to cover the vaccination of household pets, overlooking the stray animal population.
Attempts are made to round up, vaccinate and sterilize stray dogs, but these are not regular and not wide enough in scope to meet the demand.
Generally speaking, animal welfare all over the world is carried out by a number of voluntary organizations, pitifully small given the magnitude of the problem.
Embark, Dogstar, the Sri Lanka Animal Welfare Association and Animal SOS are some of the bigger organizations engaged in animal welfare in Sri Lanka. There may be a dozen or more smaller bodies centred around a few animal lovers and volunteers. Some have their websites and blogs. In addition, there are scores of individuals who look after stray dogs and cats from their homes with little or no publicity.
Internationally, the picture looks better with hundreds of organizations working in animal welfare. But it is always an uphill struggle. Many third world countries don’t have large home-grown bodies dedicated to this subject. The general view is that people themselves are so poor that looking after stray animals is a luxury and even high-minded. Some societies have cultural and religious prejudices against certain species of animals, especially dogs.
On the bright side, no Sri Lankan animal shelter kills animals taken under its wing. That is why all shelters are overcrowded. But many stray animals are in a pitiful state. While NGOs and volunteer organizations sometimes organize mobile clinics to vaccinate and sterilize stray dogs, the country still lacks a mobile unit which can rush to the aid of a crippled animal.
Here is a quick look at some of the better known animal welfare organizations in the world.
Animal Aid Unlimited plays a big role in animal rescues in India. Its You Tube videos show welfare workers in Rajasthan rescuing a stray dog with a wire strung tightly through its mouth and around the neck, making deep wounds. If not found by members of Animal Aid Unlimited, India, this dog would have died a horrible death.
Another video shows the rescue of a dog hit by a train. AAUL members found it bleeding by the tracks, having lost both front legs. After recovery, the dog learned to move on hind legs like a kangaroo, until it was fitted with a front prosthetic leg.
AAUL sends mobile units to respond to calls by the Public. This is something critically needed in Sri Lanka, where speeding vehicles leave scores of animals crippled by the roadside every day. But such services do not exist here. Only the Wildlife Department has the capacity to send vets (usually to treat critically injured elephants and other wild life), but the resources simply are not adequate given the magnitude of the problem. CLAW (Community Led Animal Welfare), founded in South Africa in 1999, is an African pioneer in this sphere. Its services include sterilization, vaccination, parasite & pest prevention, emergency care and pet owner education. It sends mobile clinics into towns with large slums realizing that residents may be too poor to bring their pets to veterinary hospitals. Like AAUL, CLAW, too sends rescue teams to help crippled animals.CLAW, working together with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), operates in crime-ridden neighbourhoods considered dangerous for outsiders, and CLAW members have been attacked and intimidated. YouTube has a video which shows IFAW-CLAW members rescuing a dog which was buried alive after being hit by a car.
Poisoning of stray animals; especially dogs, is a big problem in the slums. Rat poison can be bought easily in the streets because it is seen as an agricultural product. One video shows IFAW members rescuing nine Beagles kept inside metal containers since birth as a science experiment. They had never stepped outside those boxes which were too small for them to stretch their bodies.
Cruelty to animals is widespread. One YouTube video shows Brazilian fire fighters rescuing a dog which was buried neck deep in a pit for two days before a passer-by made an alert.
In Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, organizations such as the World Animal Protection Society and Best Friends (a non-profit American animal welfare society) are working hard against great odds. In abysmally poor, chaotic Sierra Leone, a veterinary surgeon named Dr. Kudos Jalloh and his team from the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society are waging a heroic struggle. They carry out sterilizations and other operations from their mobile clinic but do not have the facilities to operate on dogs seriously injured in hit and run accidents. The dog may be man’s best friend, with cats coming second. But they are friends who are often abandoned, poisoned, stoned, starved, run over, neglected and ill treated.