Stray dogs in short supply as students rush in to walk them – at what risks?

Wan Lixin
A university's effort to get students to walk dogs in a designated area has led to a lot of online chatter, but does it help in solving the problem of stray dogs?
Wan Lixin

There has been some media hype recently about a university's innovative prescription for the city's problem of stray dogs.

For some years now, authorities at the downtown campus of East China Normal University have kept some stray dogs in a designated area, and as part of the rearing process, animal-loving students can apply to walk the dogs along designated routes in the evenings.

The response from students has been so positive that there simply aren't enough dogs to go around – there are only 13 dogs available for the purpose.

Some people see the initiative as a win-win situation: it safeguards abandoned pets' welfare and prevents faculty and students from being victimized by stray dogs on the loose. It has even been observed that intimate contact with canines may help students to unwind and de-stress.

This unqualified adulation, however, smacks of tactical disingenuousness for deliberately shortchanging those who may be adamantly opposed to such a scheme.

As such, I'd like to make some observations on behalf of those who may have reservations about this practice.

To begin with, walking dogs on campus's secluded trails does not prevent people from being intimidated by dogs.

On Sunday evening, at about 21:20, after sending a few parcels to our son at his university, my wife and I were going through a well-sequestered trail in our neighborhood. I began to slow down, a little mesmerized by the thick foliage and the enveloping quietude, when a great hulk of a man emerged in the distance, menacingly. This guy was holding long leashes to five dogs, fanning out in all directions around him, all six of them marching forward briskly. They took up such a space that a close encounter was inevitable. I put on a brave front of insouciance and heaved a sigh of relief when the encounter proved uneventful.

I whispered to my wife in a huff: "Shouldn't they put a cap on the number of dogs a family could be allowed to raise?"

So my experience suggested that unless the university could afford to set aside a trail dedicated solely to the canines and their keepers, they would continue to deter pedestrians, especially at night.

I'm not sure if students are also required to participate in the full range of canine care, but simply taking a dog for a walk falls short of a well-rounded education in the complexities of pet care.

Walking a dog, like taking a baby on a short public parade, can help students de-stress and unwind.

However, some aspects of nurturing can cause distress and anxiety.

Like a baby, a pet needs to answer the calls of nature and will be subject to the forces of nature. Unlike a baby, a dog might attack without any provocation, carry viruses or pests, and bark long and wild in the neighborhood in the dead of night. They might also be a menace to local ecology by preying on birds and other animals.

Keeping 13 stray dogs on campus might be no big deal, but even this endeavor might aggravate the problems of stray dogs.

Some dog owners decide to give up their pets after discovering, belatedly, that keeping a dog costs more than the snazzy figures some dog owners cut in public parades of their canines. The presence of a refugee would make it easier for these owners to impose on the generosity of society as a whole.

Pet-raising is becoming a kind of conspicuous consumption, including pedigree, food, snacks, toys, cosmetics, fashion, hygiene, and medicine. At a time when most businesses in our neighborhood are cutting back or closing, the addition of a pet hospital is impressive: well-lit and well-ventilated (with nearly 20 air conditioners), with cutting-edge equipment.

A true solution to stray dogs must go beyond sentimentalized inanities, just as those who claim to care about animals' welfare must try to be vegans first.

Rather than keeping a symbolic colony of pets at campus, the school authority could do better finding the stray dogs adopted homes, and driving home to the students that, in the failure to identify the original owners, in legal practice, those who habitually feed a stray dog should be made partially responsible for damages it caused.

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