The ripple-effects of free-roaming community dogs

Victoria Brookes, Michael P. Ward, Chris Degeling

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Management of free-roaming dogs in low-resourced, remote communities generally focuses on dog population reduction to limit human impacts such as bites and zoonotic disease. Our objective was to explore resident’s perceptions of dog management strategies and impacts more broadly in selected remote communities in Australia using a grounded theory approach, to understand how dog problems arise and mechanisms for their resolution. Five remote communities were studied over one year. Sixteen semi-structured (‘key-role’) and 37 informal (‘community’) interviews were conducted about dog value, impacts and the influence of management strategies. Key-role participants included animal and human health workers, teachers, council staff, and local business managers. Community participants were nearly all Indigenous and included male and female participants of different ages. Researchers used framework analysis and tested hypotheses throughout the study to reach consensus on interpretation. Constraints associated with remote-living (intermittent veterinary services, expensive food), limited governance (unrestricted dog ownership, lack of dog control), and local norms (free-roaming dogs, low expectations of dog health) collectively underpinned dog problems such as scavenging, aggression and poor dog health. These impacts raised social tensions, which manifested as acquiescence or resentment, reducing human and dog wellbeing because residents avoided confrontation and physically harmed, or wish to harm, free-roaming dogs. Dog impacts are broad and erode community social capital; unwanted canine behaviour causes disagreement that has ripple effects across a community. Solving them by focusing on veterinary input to decrease the dog population is a single-sided, unsustainable approach to management. We propose a conceptual framework that considers a community’s ‘carrying-capacity’ for dogs, incorporating all inter-relating levels from regional (remoteness, veterinary service provision), community (governance) to individuals (dog-keeping norms). Management should seek to optimize this capacity by engaging stakeholders at all levels, to support the cultural norms of dog ownership whilst minimising dog problems.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019
EventThe Conference of International Society for Economics and Social Sciences of Animal Health - Southeast Asia: ISESSAH SEA 2019 - IPB University, Bogor, Indonesia
Duration: 17 Oct 201918 Oct 2019


ConferenceThe Conference of International Society for Economics and Social Sciences of Animal Health - Southeast Asia


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