What If We Let Dogs Roam Free?

I recently read a blog post by Dino Dogan that asked, “Do we need animal shelters?” His question was, “what would happen if we were to let dogs roam free?” The premise being that dogs and humans have successfully coexisted for hundreds of thousands of years and that our modern arrangement, including animal shelters are only a few hundred years old, so clearly dogs did okay before they hooked up so intimately with us. Dino then lists several arguments and counter arguments to give food for thought. And thought-provoking it is!


I can’t say that I haven’t thought about whether dogs would be better off if left to lead somewhat more natural lives than they do in western civilization. I’ve traveled all over the planet and have had the opportunity to observe dogs in all sorts of cultures and climates. Sometimes, as in the towns of Cusco, Peru and Kata Beach in Phuket the dogs really do seem to lead an idyllic lifestyle. They all look well fed, they’re social with both people and most other dogs, they strut around town as they please, sniffing, playing, sunning, and mating at will. Dogs in both of the towns I mention above get plenty of attention from people, often from visiting, dog-crazy westerners jonesin’ for some doggy lovin’. It seems to be the best of both worlds.


However, I’ve also been to several places where free roaming dogs do not fare as well. In many countries dogs are seen as vermin or a food source, or both. In some of these places even if people keep dogs as watchdogs or farming aids, they do not really ever interact with the dogs, which are still largely left to fend for themselves or perish. In poverty stricken areas across the globe, heck, even in Los Angeles, free roaming dogs are also malnourished and diseased. When there aren’t enough tourists, the dumps are barren, and people are busy fending for themselves, free roaming dogs suffer.


And then there is the behind the scene reality of so-called happy, free dogs. The dogs that appear to live free and in abundance in touristy areas of many countries are really only living on borrowed time. Most of them will be culled in once or twice yearly poisoning sprees, a form of population control. Not to mention the natural selection process that occurs among free roaming litters of pups. Of an entire litter of five-to-ten healthy pups, generally only one or two ever make it to adolescence or adulthood. The rest are killed by cars, cruel or desperate people, disease, dehydration, or even by getting lost from mum or gravely injured.


Many wild species do self regulate procreation based on abundance, or lack of, resources as Dino mentions, however dogs are domestic animals and they do not. Dogs still procreate beyond what their ecosystem can support; poor living conditions and lack of abundance do not stop breeding, as Dino suggests, but rather just dictate how many cute little puppies will live to see their first birthday.


It’s true that dogs can eat relatively well off of human waste and that dump dogs have an abundant food source, but they still lead stressful lives where they must dodge people and motor vehicles, and constantly look for shelter and fresh water. They still have to deal with nuisance parasites such as fleas, ringworm, and mange, and if they get injured the chance of infection setting in is likely. Speaking of infection, infectious disease and large roaming packs are dangers to human society. Even in urban environments running into a small pack of loose dogs is intimidating and dangerous.


I don’t believe that letting dogs roam free under our current circumstances is feasible or desirable. However, I would love to see a better balance between the overly pampered western pooch in a pouch that’s not allowed to act like a dog and the poor, mistreated or pariah dogs that suffer in the shadows worldwide. I’d love to see people actually taking their dog’s needs into consideration before they get one on impulse, or force a square peg into a round hole. I’d love to see animals and people everywhere treated with dignity and respect. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” And, “You are forever responsible for what you have tamed.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery