Community-Based Solutions to Managing Companion Animal Populations
Education is the most important component of a comprehensive approach to management, as human behaviour is a tremendously influential factor in companion animal issues. Encouraging responsible and rewarding human-animal relationships will lead to an improvement in animal welfare as well as a reduction in many of the sources of roaming animals. The owned animal population may be found to be a significant source of roaming animals and may suffer from many preventable welfare problems, and human behaviour towards these animals will be the driving force behind these problems. Public education to increase awareness of companion animal issues and an impact on animal welfare will be necessary for engaging community involvement. However, there may be key specific education messages that are important to highlight at different stages of a particular program. For example, in a cat population program, you may focus on the realistic expectations of cat ownership, while explaining the implications of feeding free roaming cats without assuming ownership for them.
Strategies should focus on supporting responsible pet ownership and on reducing the roaming population, with the aim of decreasing the incidence of these animals transitioning from owned to semi owned or unowned and maximizing the transition of these animals into owned pets.
Several issues need to be considered when using this component:
- Education initiatives should be developed in coordination with the local education authorities and carried out by trained professionals. Development of key messages is an important first step and may be best achieved through multi-stakeholder consultations. Curriculum development can be based upon these key messages. These messages should be tested for their effectiveness and reviewed on a regular basis. All stakeholders can advise on content but delivery should be carried out with skilled support.
- It is important to engage all potential sources of education to ensure that messages are kept consistent.
- Ideally this should include animal welfare groups, the veterinary profession, schools, enforcement bodies, local government and the media (including animal-focused media groups).
- Education should be tailored carefully to your target audience as different methods will be required for different ages and cultures. It is important to understand the most effective ways of communicating to each target audience. Educational messages can be communicated in many ways, including:
- formal seminars and lessons in schools
- leaflets and brochures provided to targeted audiences
- awareness in the general public through the press, billboards, radio and TV
- directly engaging people in discussions as part of community-based programming
- Keep educational messaging consistent. The interventions should encourage responsible and rewarding human-animal interactions. For example, demonstrating respectful and careful handling of animals will help to encourage empathetic and respectful attitudes in the local population.
- It can take time for the impact of education on population management to become evident, so methods of monitoring and evaluating its impact need to incorporate both short-term and long-term indicators. The impact can be considered on three levels: the acquisition of knowledge and skills; changes in attitudes; and resultant behaviour change.
Attitudes towards companion animals also need to be explored within communities before the educational aspects on population control can be devised. If negative attitudes towards specific animals exist, they will reduce the likelihood of education programs, and subsequent management programs succeeding, especially if population stability as opposed to reduction is the intention. It is a good idea to engage religious representatives and community leaders early in the process, to explore how religious or cultural understanding could hinder or support potential educational efforts.
Religion and culture play an important role in people’s attitudes and beliefs. There may be a belief that sterilization will cause undesirable behavioural changes, that sterilization is a form of mutilation or that to deprive an animal of the ability to reproduce is an unacceptable infringement of its rights. Religious and cultural attitudes must be explored and addressed with sensitivity and understanding if they need to be challenged for the benefit of animal welfare.
It may be possible to address these beliefs with education to change behavioural outcomes. For example, a belief that sterilization will cause negative behavioural changes in an animal can be addressed through education and examples of sterilized animals in the community, so encouraging owners to seek sterilization for their pets.
Pets for Life Community Outreach Toolkit. Retrieved from https://www.animalsheltering.org/sites/default/files/content/PetsForLifeCommunityOutreachToolkit.pdf from www.animalsheltering.org. (2014).