Dogs and cats who live on streets around the world face numerous hardships every day. These are animals like Browny, a dog who was left lying in pain on the streets of India for days after being hit by a car. Lambu, also a dog in India, who had severe mange on his whole body and could not even open his eyes. Or Jota, a cat who was found by a Humane Society International volunteer in Chile, limping and in a state of complete dehydration.

Fortunately, our HSI teams stepped in to help Browny, Lambu and Jota with treatment and care for their return to health. But there are tens of millions more dogs and cats living on the streets and in need of help too. Most battle starvation, dehydration and exposure to the elements on a daily basis. Some are subjected to culls in the nations they live, using brutal methods like poisoning and even shooting.

Over the last two decades, HSI has changed the lives of dogs and cats around the globe by creating and implementing a better way of managing their populations. Today, the program operates across eight nations, in collaboration with local governments, partners and veterinarians. We develop humane and sustainable programs to manage populations of street dogs and cats, including sterilization and vaccinations. We educate the communities the animals live in and arm people with tools to ensure both their own well-being and the welfare of the animals. And we offer training to veterinarians to enhance surgery skills and teach the highest standards of care.

But our steady progress was challenged in many ways when the pandemic hit, especially for the dogs and cats who often depend on the communities they live in for daily food and water. With markets and restaurants closing, and caretakers losing their income, large numbers of dogs and cats worldwide have been left without the basic necessities they need to survive.

With markets and restaurants closing during the pandemic, and caretakers losing their income, large numbers of dogs and cats worldwide have been left without the basic necessities they need to survive.
Photo by Mayur Waghela/For HSI

That's why, last year, we quickly mobilized to provide additional resources to help this situation immediately and directly.

While taking all the precautions necessary to keep staff and the community safe, we switched to innovative methods of outreach, such as videoconferencing and telemedicine, and the use of online tools to ensure feeding programs were running smoothly and animals were being treated for minor wounds. Our community engagement and veterinary staff, recognized as essential workers in many countries, got back to work on sterilization and vaccination programs so we could keep up the pace of progress we had already made for street animals.

Here is a glimpse into some of the progress made in our work with street dogs and cats around the world during the pandemic and in recent years:

  • Bolivia: Since 2012, we have spayed/neutered more than 25,000 dogs and cats in the country. Of these 2,385 cats and dogs were spayed/neutered and 1,161 were vaccinated against rabies in 2020. We also trained more than 200 veterinary professionals as part of our Veterinary Training Program.
  • Chile: Over the last 10 years we have spayed/neutered more than 35,000 dogs and cats, including 1,300 dogs and cats in 2020. Also last year, 468 dogs received life-saving and preventative care. An additional 858 received emergency veterinary care. We provided telemedicine help via a local HSI vet and trained local group leaders in eight towns to perform first aid for street dogs/cats with first aid kits.
  • Guyana: In 2020, 1,230 cats and dogs were spayed/neutered and 723 received life-saving and preventative care. Through local partners in Georgetown we provided home-cooked meals to more than 700 community animals during the most difficult months of the pandemic.
  • India: In 2020, more than 21,000 dogs were spayed/neutered and more than 22,000 were vaccinated. In 2021 so far, we have sterilized 5,699 dogs and vaccinated 5,915. On World Spay Day this February, we invited communities to bring their community dogs to HSI facilities in the cities of Lucknow, Dehradun and Vadodara. A total of 230 dogs were sterilized and vaccinated. Some dogs were provided with deworming medications, given health checkups and collars.
  • In the African nations of Mauritius, Mozambique, Liberia and Tanzania, HSI teams sterilized 787 dogs and vaccinated 1,016. Nearly 7,000 dogs were treated for ailments.

One of our most important tools in the fight to improve the lives of street dogs and cats is education, and we do this by organizing webinars for the communities where these animals live, on pet care, first aid and animal welfare issues. In India and Mauritius we implemented an intensive community engagement program, which includes sessions with school children and local stakeholders, dog behavior workshops, and regular community meetings on topics such as how to dispose garbage to keep animals from rummaging through it, and rabies prevention.

We are steadily changing attitudes. In some communities in Chile, for example, where we recently began a pilot project, we found that animals had never had access to veterinary services. As a result people had found ways to deal with unwanted litters in ways that appeared shocking: for instance, they were castrating male dogs themselves, or were inclined to save male puppies and sacrifice female pups so they didn’t have to deal with litters later on.

When we began working with these communities we found them incredibly responsive. After we established a veterinary presence in these towns, the demand for our services shot up from no initial interest to fully booked appointments. In less than two months, we are hearing from nearby places asking for our collaboration in bringing much needed services to their towns.

This is one of the most heartwarming aspects of this work: most people anywhere in the world, given the right education and tools, are willing to coexist peacefully and even lovingly with street dogs and cats. Many take pains to ensure their well-being, feeding them regularly and bringing them into clinics for medical care. Our India team, for instance, found that in 2021, more than 18% of the street dogs coming into HSI clinics are being brought in by community members—a major change from the past.

These are promising signs of progress and we are excited and grateful to be a part of this important work that benefits dogs and cats and the people who care about them.