Earlier this year, organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia faced controversy when animal advocates accused city authorities of euthanizing street dogs in preparation for the Games. The controversy shed light on the problem of stray dogs, an issue that Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – host of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games – is also dealing with.
The difference, however, is that some parts of Brazil are exploring an alternative way of humanely managing these animals. The Brazilian town of Campo Largo, for example, has established a ‘community dog’ program, through which certain stray dogs are spayed or neutered, health-checked and officially registered in their residing neighbourhoods. Eugenia Kwok, a fourth year student in our Applied Animal Biology program, spent the summer in Campo Largo studying the town’s stray dog population.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the resilience of stray dogs and their ability to survive in adverse situations with reduced wild instincts,” said Kwok. “The community dogs in Campo Largo are offered basic necessities such as food, water and shelter by community members, while routine veterinary care is provided by the town hall”.
Kwok worked closely with Federal University of Paraná’s Dr. Carla Molento and UBC Animal Welfare Professor Marina von Keyserlingk to learn more about the dogs’ daily activities and interactions.
“An important component to dog population control is to discourage dog abandonment through education on responsible pet ownership,” said Kwok. “What the community dog program offers is an opportunity for community members to share the responsibilities in caring for and managing street dogs with the help of staff at the town hall.”
Eugenia will continue to analyze her data in the coming year as she completes her undergraduate thesis on this research. She hopes that her research will help the public become more curious about stray dogs in other communities and encourage critical thinking on the welfare implications associated with these animals.
Eugenia was able to spend 3 months in Brazil thanks to a $5,000 Mitacs Globalink Research Award, which allows faculty members and students at Canadian universities to build an international research network and undertake research abroad.
It was a busy summer for Kwok, as she also travelled to Shanghai to represent UBC at the Universities 21 Undergraduate Research conference on International Food Safety and Security and to Prague to attend the 9th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in Life Sciences. The presentations at both conferences summarized the research that she completed while taking the Applied Animal Biology 398 course on Research methods taught by Drs. Marina von Keyserlingk and Dan Weary.
“Spending time in foreign countries taught me the importance of being open to new ideas and accepting different opinions. Every community faces a different challenge,” she said. “The experience has really strengthened my knowledge of animal welfare and broadened my perspectives as a student researcher.”