Community-Based Solutions to Managing Companion Animal Populations
Before establishing a population management program it is crucial that the particulars of the population in question are understood and measured accurately. This approach ensures the program will be customized to the specific characteristics of the local population, rather than using a single intervention for all animals or all situations.
The questions that should be explored throughout the assessment are:
- What is the present size of the population in question and the animal types within it?
- Where are the roaming animals coming from? What are the sources of these animals and why do they exist?
- How is the roaming population changing over time and how is it maintained?
- Is the unowned population itself capable of successful reproduction?
- Can unowned animals raise offspring to adulthood?
- Are unwanted owned animals abandoned and allowed to become part of the roaming population?
- Are owned animals allowed to roam freely?
- If abandonment or roaming is an issue, why does it occur? What are the beliefs, attitudes or environmental factors that cause these behaviours?
- What are the key welfare issues faced by these animals? Measuring welfare can be approached either through direct observation of the animals or by measuring their access to resources important for their welfare, or a combination of both.
- What is the welfare status of the roaming population and how widespread are welfare problems?
- What is the welfare status of owned animals and how widespread are welfare problems? Do owners provide their pets with good welfare?
- How is the welfare status of the animals affected by the current control measures?
- What are the survival rates of different types or age groups of the animals in question? Shorter than average survival rates could suggest poor welfare.
- What is currently being done for population control and why? Understanding what is already being done can allow current resources and control measures to be improved and built upon. This helps to ensure that any new interventions will not conflict with current ones.
- Whose responsibility is it to control the roaming population? This usually falls under the purview of local government.
- What relevant legislation exists? Any measures taken must fit within the legal framework of the area.
The information above is not a complete list, but an attempt to highlight key areas of importance. It is essential that all relevant stakeholders are consulted during this process and representation should be sought from everyone who is affected by the population issue(s). Wherever possible, an equitable approach should also be used; not only should people be consulted, but their views taken into consideration and their input used to design and drive the future intervention. This will encourage ‘buy-in’ from the stakeholders and will inevitably improve the success of the program. It is necessary to listen to the concerns and opinions of the local community and local authority because addressing these will help ensure the sustainability of the project.
Data can be collected in a variety of different ways, depending on the information you want to acquire. Some useful methods include:
- Household surveys, either door to door or by telephone can be used to gather data on all aspects of pet ownership
- Focus groups and informal interviews can be used to explore the subject area from a range of different perspectives, so it is important to ensure that a good representation of the public is included.
- Indicator counts are simply a count that will indicate whether the number of animals in an area increases or decreases over a period of time.
- Mark-resight methods is where animals can be marked (or otherwise identified) and detected later by sighting in order to estimate population size and survival rates.
Ideally, it will be the duty of the local government authority to bring together stakeholders for consultation. However, if they are unwilling or unable to do this, anyone can create a working group themselves and relay the findings to the relevant authorities. The following is a list of possible stakeholders to be consulted:
- Government – usually local, but provincial and/or federal governments may also be applicable for policy and legislation.
- Veterinary community – national governing body, veterinary professional association, private practitioners, students.
- Animal welfare community – local, national and international organizations working in animal welfare and human health. Includes animal sheltering facilities or foster-based organizations.
- Academic communities – can provide experience in animal behaviour, veterinary science, sociology, ecology and epidemiology.
- Educators – can develop and provide curriculum on key issues.
- Local media – can provide an outlet for education, publicity and local support.
- Local community leaders/representatives and residents– both pet owners and non-owners.
The following is an outline that can be used to achieve stakeholder involvement. The process can be adapted to the size of the initiative.
- Create a working group of people with an interest in and responsibility for local population management. This group would be tasked with designing and carrying out the initial data collection and assessment of the local population(s) in question.
- Following an initial assessment, this working group can be developed into a formal committee with representation from each relevant stakeholder. The committee should have terms of reference, a list of membership and a role for members, a commitment to regular meetings, updates of an action plan and a clear aim.
- Each member of the committee is responsible for representing the needs of their stakeholders with regards to population management. For example, the local public health authority might require control of zoonotic disease; the local animal shelter might require an improvement in welfare, and the municipal government might require an increase in pet licensing. A set of objectives can be drafted based on the data produced by the initial assessment and the needs of each stakeholder. The plan can form with clear understanding of the aims and what will be seen as success or failure by each stakeholder.
- The financial commitment required to make the program successful, both in the short and long term, should be discussed and agreed by the committee.
- The responsibility of each committee member needs to be made clear. Once the program is launched, regular meetings will be required to update on progress and discuss the results of monitoring and evaluation and discuss any changes needed.
Program implementation should be fairly straightforward if priorities and goals have been chosen sensibly and the design stage is carried out in detail. This stage may require phases, using smaller pilot areas, which are monitored carefully to ensure any problems are dealt with prior to a complete launch. The initial stages should not be rushed into as they provide a good opportunity to observe closely and improve progress in the early phases.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Once underway, it will be necessary to monitor the project’s progress and evaluate its effectiveness. This is necessary to improve performance by highlighting problems and successes of interventions for accountability as well as to demonstrate that the program is achieving its aims.
Monitoring is a continuous process to verify the project is going to plan and allows for regular adjustments. Evaluation is a periodic review, carried out at specific targets to confirm the program is having the desired impact effect. Evaluation should also be used as the basis for decisions regarding future investment and continuation of the project. Both monitoring and evaluation involve the measurement of indicators selected at the design stage because they reflect important elements of the program at different stages.
Choosing appropriate indicators, with regard to their ability to reflect the changes that need to be measured is vital to the success of this stage. In order to choose these indicators it is essential to have a clear plan of what the program is setting out to achieve and why; and how the intervention will accomplish this.
Ideally monitoring and evaluation will be approached in a manner where all relevant stakeholders are consulted and involved in making recommendations. It is also important to remain open-minded as things may change contrary to expectations. The exposure of problems or failures should be seen as opportunities for improvement, rather than mistakes requiring justification. The concept of monitoring and evaluation is not complex, but there are many decisions to be made regarding what to measure, how this is to be done and how the results should be analysed and used.
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Community TNR Tactics and Tools
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Companion Animal Management Plan
Surveying Roaming Dog Populations: Guidelines on Methodology
Persuading Municipal Officials to go with TNR
Stakeholder Engagement: Why is it important for Humane and Sustainable Dog and Cat Management?