On the causes and consequences of the free-roaming dog problem in southern Chile (Eduardo Silva et al. 2023)

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Science of the Total Environment

On the causes and consequences of the free-roaming dog problem in southern Chile

Free-roaming dogs are an important concern for public health, livestock production and the environment. Human behaviors—such as allowing pets to roam, abandoning dogs, or feeding stray animals—could influence free-roaming dog abundance and the frequency of occurrence of dog-caused problems. Here we aim to determine patterns of freeroaming dog abundance in urban and rural areas, to reveal spatial variation in human behaviors underlying the
free-roaming dog problem, and to test for associations between free-roaming dog abundance and related problems. We conducted our study in Chile, where dogs are a major environmental issue. In Chile, as in many other Global South countries, many people leave their dogs to roam, partly due to norms and to lax enforcement of dog control laws. To address our objectives, we counted dogs in 213 transects in urban and rural areas to model dog abundance using N-mixture models. Then we conducted interviews in 553 properties around the transects to determine people’s dog management, their behavior towards free-roaming dogs and the prevalence of dog-caused problems. Dog abundance was higher in transects where a higher number of owned dogs was allowed to roam, as well as in lowerincome neighborhoods (based on property tax valuation). Meanwhile, rural citizens were more likely to let their dogs’ roam. Dog abandonment was reported more frequently in lower-income urban neighborhoods and rural areas.Not surprisingly, we found that several problems—such as dog bites—were more frequent where we detected more free-roaming dogs. Our results highlight that the owned dog population is a central component of the free-roaming dog problem, and that human behavior is the key driver underlying the problem. Dog management programs should promote responsible dog-ownership, with a strong message focused on keeping dogs inside properties and preventing abandonment.


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