Strays health and welfare can be seriously affected when they live under poor conditions, and when inhumane and ineffective population control measures are used.
Many of these animals used to have a home, and have ended up homeless due to irresponsible human behaviour. A 2015 study commissioned by the European Union cited uncontrolled reproduction, financial difficulties and owners relocating as the main factors contributing to stray animal populations. Overbreeding also leads to some pets not being sold and therefore released into the wild.
Many of the stray dogs in the EU were born from unsterilised owned dogs that are free to roam. Certain groups of stray cats are also referred to as feral, meaning unsocialised: they are the offspring of cats from private households and have not had any contact with humans.
It is not possible to use one single approach to manage stray populations. To be successful, approaches have to be adjusted to the local situation and the population, and it is fundamental to involve the local community. In some countries, political pressure or a health crisis can lead local governments to decide for short-term, inhumane and ineffective solutions or choose lethal methods, and a lack of knowledge or resources prevent them from designing their management approaches with animal and human welfare in mind.
There are more effective alternatives to managing stray populations. Research is currently being done on the sustainability, effectiveness and efficiency of methods, which include providing shelter. However, long-term sheltering is not the answer. A number of powerful documentaries on the treatment of stray animals in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Romania among other places, have shown that the animals taken into these establishments don’t always receive the care they need, and are treated inhumanely or malnourished.
Also, population sizes do not always allow for the costly option of sheltering and adopting out the animals. This is where neutering is incremental: catching and releasing, also known as Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR), also provides an opportunity for vaccination and for the animal’s overall health to be checked.