On a bustling street in the city of Vadodara, India, a young local resident is pointing out dogs wandering among the traffic. She is with three animal care officers from Humane Society International/India, who are playing with the dogs, feeding them some treats and then scooping them up gently to bring them to a clinic for veterinary care. What they are doing together is the sign of a paradigm shift that has happened in the city over the past several years. Bystanders begin to gather, curious to understand what’s happening, and a community engagement officer from HSI/India is there to answer questions about where the dogs are being taken, when they will be returned and what kind of surgery and vaccination they will receive. This is a typical day in our street dog program in India.

Vadodara, the second largest city and cultural capital of the state of Gujarat, is filled with towering banyan trees and sprawling palaces, threaded together by streets busy with pedestrians and autorickshaws. It is common here for street dogs to live among people. Too often perceived as pests, these dogs try to survive the heat, traffic and the cruel methods and mistreatment often used to drive them out of an area. In the past, most of these dogs never saw their first birthday, regularly suffering from neglect, disease and even abuse.

Committed to improving the welfare of these dogs, HSI/India began discussions with the local government to find creative solutions. In partnership with the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, HSI/India launched an innovative program in 2017 to humanely manage the street dog population, improve dog health through vaccination and educate local communities about dog welfare.

An event held in Vadodara, India, for World Spay Day was just one part of a years-long effort to change public perceptions of street dogs in the city.

We knew that this would be no small task given the sizeable dog population and negative attitudes prevailing in many neighborhoods. So, we assembled a top-notch team of spay/neuter surgeons, veterinary nurses, animal control officers and community engagement specialists. We knew that to achieve real, lasting change for these dogs, we needed to do more than just spay/neuter: We needed to change public perceptions about them. An integrated street dog management model was born.

That model brings together traditional spay/neuter surgery initiatives with stronger community engagement. While the clinic staff was busy checking dogs in and ensuring safe and humane surgery (and smooth post-surgical recovery), a public engagement team was hitting the streets, working to ensure peaceful coexistence between communities and dogs by speaking and meeting with people who’d called in on the helpline to complain about dogs. In its efforts to facilitate solutions. The team goes house to house and neighborhood to neighborhood to talk with residents, organizes community meetings to discuss street dog issues and convenes dog behavior workshops. Their strategy included committees to ensure every dog in a neighborhood was sterilized and vaccinated and designating places for dog food and water where they wouldn’t disturb foot traffic. This work even continued during the worst of Covid, transitioning to an online format.

The results were nothing short of impressive. With support from the Vadodara Municipal Corporation, our teams have spayed and neutered total of 23,696 dogs since the start of the program. Now, 86% of all dogs in the city have been spayed, neutered and vaccinated. Thanks to this high spay/neuter percentage, it is now rare to see litters of puppies born on the street, which was historically the norm. If you visit the city, dogs look much happier and healthier. HSI is moving on to other communities, but the Vadodara Municipal Corporation will continue the program with local partners and look to the future to do more for the dogs of Vadodara.

Not only are the dogs happier, but so are the human residents. Dog-related complaints decreased by more than 60%. We have seen a paradigm shift in the city, where communities are now taking ownership of dog-related issues across the city. A few years ago, the calls the team received in Vadodara were mostly complaints about dogs being a nuisance, barking and chasing residents. Now the calls from locals are mostly tips to report unsterilized or unvaccinated dogs. As we finish the program in Vadodara and celebrate the work completed, we hope to build the capacity of the movement in other Indian cities, or countries facing similar challenges.

Everyone can help create a more humane world for street dogs by donating to our work or raising awareness about street dogs by sharing this story.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.