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Research spotlight

Community attitudes to free-roaming dogs in Goa, India

Corfmat J, Gibson AD, Mellanby RJ, Watson W, Appupillai M, Yale G, Gamble L, Mazeri S. Community attitudes and perceptions towards free-roaming dogs in Goa, India. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 2023 Oct-Dec;26(4):565-581. doi: 10.1080/10888705.2021.2014839.

Figure 1

Key Points

  • There is a huge population of free roaming dogs (FRD) in India, which can be a source of human-animal conflict.
  • This study found that owned dogs in Goa are frequently allowed to roam freely, and the majority of these are entire.
  • Attitudes towards FRD varied depending on factors such as geographic location, and income.
  • While the majority of respondents viewed FRD as a nuisance, with barking and chasing reported as problematic behaviours, many believed that FRD had a right to live within their communities and supported them through feeding.
  • Most respondents agreed the FRD population needs reducing, with the use of shelters and animal birth control reported as the most popular solutions.

Research question: why did we carry out this research?

There is an estimated population of over 100 million free roaming dogs (FRD) in India. The associated human-dog conflict influences dogs’ welfare due to issues such as neglect, abuse, and road collisions. Conflict also poses a risk to public health, not least due to the risk of dog-mediated rabies, which kills an estimated 20,000 people a year in India.

Many organisations are currently working to reduce this conflict and improve outcomes for dogs and humans through projects such as birth control (sterilisation), shelters and education. WVS and Mission Rabies have been working in India to increase rabies vaccination, education, humane birth control measures, and providing adoption/shelter programmes in locations in Tamil Nadu and Goa.

Prior to this study, there was a lack of large-scale data on public attitudes and behaviour towards FRD in India. This study was undertaken to improve the understanding of community perceptions and practices, thereby helping to inform the future development of successful initiatives to improve animal welfare and reduce conflict between human and dog populations.

Methodology: what did we do?

The state of Goa, India, was divided into working zones, based on administrative boundaries. These were randomised to select 36 zones for the survey. Within each of the selected zones, household surveys were carried out between April and June 2019. Questions focused on dog ownership, attitudes towards FRD, care and feeding of FRD, problems, solutions, and management of FRD. Demographic data on the respondents was also collected. The answers were recorded into the WVS Smartphone app, using multiple answer options (which were not read aloud to the participants) and free text. In total 1141 people completed the survey.

Figure 2

Results: what were the findings?

Dog ownership

  • The majority of respondents did not own a dog.
  • 72% of owned dogs were male.
  • The majority of owned dogs were intermittently allowed to be free roaming and a large proportion (61%) of these were entire.

Community practices

  • Local FRD were fed by 37% of respondents.
  • Of the respondents who fed local FRD, the majority did not know whether the dogs they fed were sterilised.
  • Most respondents said they would stand still if approached by a barking dog, but some described alternative responses such as waving sticks, throwing items, running away or hitting the dog with a stick.

Community attitudes

  • FRD were perceived as a menace/nuisance by the majority of respondents. However, attitudes were conflicting. Most respondents felt that FRD have no place in modern society, but many also said they had a right to live in their communities.
  • Those living in villages were less likely to view FRD as a menace; however, those living in towns or were from lower income households reported a greater number of negative attitudinal responses towards FRD.
  • The most commonly reported problem associated with FRD was barking, followed by chasing vehicles.
  • Most respondents felt there were no benefits associated with FRD, but a large proportion (42%) felt they played a role in protecting communities (e.g. alerting to intruders).
  • A quarter of respondents had been bitten by a dog during their lifetime.
  • Almost all the respondents agreed that the FRD population needs to be reduced. The most popular method suggested was use of shelters, followed by animal birth control measures.
Figure 3

Interpretation: what insights can we gain from our findings?

The majority of owned dogs were male, which may indicate a gender bias/ preference in owners. Previous research has suggested that male dogs may be perceived as more effective guard dogs and are preferred because they do not produce litters. Abandonment of unwanted females and puppies contributes to the FRD population, so this finding highlights the need for future intervention to improve the uptake of sterilisation and promote the adoption of females into ownership. Most owned dogs were allowed to roam intermittently and were entire. This is likely to contribute to the FRD population and efforts to improve sterilisation rates of owned dogs (as well as unowned) will help prevent breeding.

Most of the community members who were feeding local dogs were unsure whether the dogs had been sterilised. Providing food sources can improve dogs’ welfare but also increase their likelihood of reproducing. Feeders in Goa need further support to understand the importance of sterilisation and increase access to the procedure.

Figure 4

Attitudes to FRD were complex and conflicting, and influenced by a variety of socio-geographic factors. It is possible that people living in villages had fewer negative views due to a lower dog population compared to larger settlements and towns. Lower income households may also have a higher exposure to FRD and therefore be more likely to consider them a nuisance. Understanding the nuances in attitudes are useful to allow more tailored interventions depending on community type.

It was perhaps surprising that barking and chasing were considered the most problematic behaviours associated with FRD, given the prevalence of dog bites (and the risk of rabies infection) also reported by respondents. There are no easy solutions to barking and chasing behaviours, but a deeper understanding of negative attitudes towards FRD will help future engagement with communities. Moreover, while the majority of respondents reported standing still if approached by a barking dog (as recommended to prevent bites), there are still members of the community who would run away or behave in a more confrontational manner. Further education on dog behaviour, and the safest way to interact with FRD, may help reduce human-animal conflict in these situations.

Ongoing work

WVS runs our International Training Centre in Goa, which provides high-throughput sterilisation, rabies vaccination, care for sick and injured animals, veterinary education, community engagement and an adoption programme. We also run outreach projects to other areas in India and globally, to broaden the impact of our work to improve the welfare of all animals, including free roaming dogs.

Figure 5

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