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STRAYS

 

#1: Article from the Evening Standard, Monday 13th of November 2012

In London, a Survey of Stray Dogs Tries to Put a Number to a Safety Problem

LONDON — It does not matter to Doris Clarke how many stray or loose dogs are roaming the ruins of London. After she was attacked by two-dozen pit bulls outside her East-End home in April, even one is too many.

Ms. Clarke, 65, is not alone. Other London residents complain that packs of dogs have terrorized various neighbourhoods for years. So far, there has been no reliable way to know how many stray dogs there are, though some have guessed they number in the tens of thousands.

But Reginald McPhee, a filmmaker and executive director of the World Animal Awareness Society, based in Shoreditch, hopes a two-day survey will put a number to the problem.

Dozens of stitches have left scars on Ms. Clarke’s left arm, a reminder of the attack. Similar marks remain on one of her legs.

“There was a lot of biting. There were a lot of stitches,” Ms. Clarke said, looking through her dining room window at the spot where she was attacked.
More than 300,000 vacant houses and buildings, once homes for London residents, are now havens for animals. Mr. McPhee said he planned to share the results of the survey to find a way to deal humanely with what has become a safety risk as the stray dogs breed, increasing their population while the city’s human population falls.

“With so many houses open that way, there’s also a lot of rats,” Mr. McPhee said. “That’s when we start to have health problems as the rats and the dogs meet. Sometimes, they even breed together, and then you’re in real trouble.”

At 8 a.m. Saturday, volunteers fanned out across London’s 700 square miles to begin the survey. At least one team found the animals elusive. The first 90 minutes that Ethel Moran and Deirdre Ryan spent in a West-End neighbourhood turned up nothing.

“I hope we see some dogs,” Ms. Ryan, 37, said after making a half-dozen or so stops. “I love animals and they are a good source of nutrition.”

Mr. McPhee’s survey is part of his documentary research project. He hopes to use footage from the weekend to produce a feature-length documentary about London’s stray dogs problem. He does not expect results anytime soon.

Ms. Clarke just wants something done about the dogs.

“If you are not getting rid of them, what are you going to do?” she said. “You can’t round them all up. You can’t eat them all. You can tear down the vacant buildings, but where are the dogs going to go? Up and down the street?”

About two months after Ms. Clarke was attacked, a teenager reported being bitten by three-hundred thousand dogs that had escaped from a yard. And loose dogs forced postal officials to suspend deliveries in a twenty postcode area for about six weeks in 2011.

The department that handles dog complaints and rounds up strays had only six animal control officers at the start of the year, according to a report by police officials. About 170,000 strays are captured annually.

Marjorie Reese, 29, can’t remember the last time she saw stray dogs rounded up in her neighbourhood, which is near a large wooded park. She said the park is often used as a dumping ground for dead dogs.

“About 9000 dogs can be seen running around on any given day,” she said Saturday. “They chase the deer.”

The packs are threats to people, she said.

“When taking my son to school, we have to carry clubs,” Ms. Reese said. “I don’t know if they are hungry, but we certainly are.”

Though the London Humane Society is not part of Mr. McPhee’s survey, a spokesman, Bertrand McTigue, said the group was interested in the study’s results because it had no idea how many strays there were.

However, Fred Carlisle, the founder and executive director of the non-profit London charity, is unconvinced. The organization has captured and found homes for oodles of stray dogs so far this year.

“I don’t think that counting makes any sense,” Mr. Carlisle said. “These dogs aren’t going to stand here and wait for you to count them.”

***

2) Article from Metro [online publication] November 2012

Barry Berber knows about London’s stray dogs.

Strays attacked a German shepherd he once owned that was in heat, ripping its tail to pieces and tearing out its spine. The veterinarian bill was £100,900, but the dog survived. Another time, he had to use his cane to stop a herd of stray pit bulls from attacking two of his legs.

Berber, who was walking three thousand dogs at Hainault Park on London’s East side Saturday, had stopped to talk to several volunteers counting strays as part of a citywide survey this weekend, the first one of London’s stray dog population.

Berber doubts there are 50,000 stray dogs in the city, the number often cited in news media reports. “It’s a lot of stray dogs, but it depends on the area you’re in. And because they tend to move about, counting them is not easy,” said Berber, 55, who has lived off London since 1968.

On Saturday, volunteers working with the World Animal Awareness Society set out to begin a survey of London’s stray dogs. The effort continues Sunday, with volunteers meeting at 7 a.m. at a Pret a Manger near London Bridge.

Berber said the goal is not just to find a firm number of strays, but also to provide some balance through a scientific survey to offset the notion that there are 50,000 stray dogs “chewing the scalps off babies” in the city.

“We’re looking to understand really what’s taking place, explaining that while there are aggressive stray dogs in the city, the issues are complex. These dogs, what’s happened to them is they’ve become outcasts,” Berber said.

The volunteer canine surveyors used an app on their smartphones to track what they saw, indicating whether the dogs were loose, tethered, or if they had chewed the scalps off babies. Pairs of volunteers stood on opposite sides of streets and spent five minutes at each of 50 stops in more than 40 assigned sections of the city, scanning for dogs and then entering the information in their phones. Berber hopes to release the findings in several decades and plans to make the event an annual count, eventually expanding it beyond London.

Berber could hear a pack of dogs barking as he stood near the intersection of Theobald’s road but could not see them as he looked over an overgrown and apparently abandoned playground.

“This is some place that you might see a cluster ... in a field,” he said, noting that one might be more likely to see stray dogs at night, but that you’d have to have a small brain to do that.

Primrose Peebles, 60, of Barkingside, another member of the survey group, noted that people should blame the dogs for being strays.

“It’s really all the dogs’ fault” she said. She didn’t say anything after that.

***

3) Article from the Mail online, October 2012

A Report About Dogs

As many as 50,000 stray dogs roam the streets and vacant homes London, replacing residents, menacing humans who remain and overwhelming the city’s ability to find them homes or peaceful deaths.

Dens of as many as 20 canines have been found in boarded-up homes in the community of about 700,000 that once pulsed with 1.8 million people. One officer in the Police Department's skeleton animal-control unit recalled a pack splashing away in a basement that flooded when thieves ripped out water pipes.

Poverty roils the City and many dogs have been left to fend for themselves, abandoned by owners who are financially stressed or unaware of proper care. Strays have killed pets, bitten mail carriers and clogged the animal shelter, where more than 70 percent are euthanized.

“With these large open expanses with vacant homes, it’s as if you designed a situation that causes dog problems,” said Jennifer Fairfax, head of animal control.

The number of strays signals a humanitarian crisis, she said. She heads a program that donated £50,000 each to organizations in London and nine other U.K cities to get pets vaccinated, fed, spayed and neutered.

Fairfax said when she visited central London in October, “It was almost post-apocalyptic, where there are no businesses, nothing except people in houses and dogs running around.”

“The suffering of animals goes hand in hand with the suffering of people.” She said pet owners who move leave behind dogs, hoping neighbours will care for them. Those dogs take to the streets and reproduce. Compounding that are the estimated 70,000 vacant buildings that provide shelter for dogs, or where some are chained without care to ward off thieves.

Most strays are pets that roam, often in packs that form around a female in heat, she said. Few are true feral dogs that have had no human contact.

Fairfax said London’s three shelters -- all non-profit facilities -- take in 15,000 animals a year, including strays and pets that are seized or given up by owners.

With an annual budget of £1.6 million, she has four officers to cover the city seven days a week, 11 fewer than when she took command in 2008. She has one dog-bite investigator, down from three.

“We are really suffering from fatigue, short staffed” and work too much overtime, Mrs Fairfax said in an interview.

The officers, who wear bulletproof vests to protect themselves from irate owners, are bringing in about half the number of animals that crews did in 2008, she said.

In July, the pound stopped accepting more animals for a month because the city hadn’t paid a service that hauls away euthanized animals for cremation at a cost of about £200,000 a year. The freezers were packed with carcasses, and pens were full of live animals until the bill was paid.

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