How did the Netherlands become the first country without stray dogs?

There are around 200 million stray dogs worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation. Impressively, the Netherlands is not part of this statistic. It has become the first country in the world without any stray dogs! 👏

Dutch people love their pets. 🐶 Puppies are whisked around the city in bike baskets, most cafés and restaurants are dog-friendly, and small pets can ride on public transport for a reduced price.

READ MORE | Having a pet in the Netherlands: all you need to know

Once, I even looked after a dog that had different flavoured meals for each night of the week (unreal, I know…). But this dog-loving atmosphere evidently pays off!

The history of stray dogs in the Netherlands

Owning dogs used to be a sign of status in the Netherlands. Upper-class people owned dogs as pets for sporting purposes, and the poorer masses owned mongrels (mutts) for working purposes.

Many Dutch paintings depict the dogs of ye olden times, such as this one by Joseph Stevens:

painting-by-joseph-stevens
Stray dogs in the Netherlands: Dog Carrying Dinner to its Master by Joseph Stevens. Image: Trzęsacz/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Given its intrinsic link to social status, there was a massive dog population in the Netherlands in the 19th century.

However, an outbreak of rabies caused widespread fear of contamination — leading to many owners abandoning their (possibly) disease-ridden pets.

As a result, society’s perspective on the human-dog relationship shifted. The health of a dog came to be seen as a reflection on the well-being of the owner. 🧍🐕

READ MORE | Best dog breeds to consider if you live in the Netherlands

During this time, the Dutch government also created a dog tax (hondenbelasting) in an attempt to regulate the number of stray dogs in the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect: there were even more stray dogs, as many people could no longer afford (or didn’t want to pay) to keep their pet dogs.

The Animal Protection Act

The Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals — the country’s first animal protection agency — was founded in 1864 in The Hague. A century later, the Animal Protection Act came into effect.

The act stated that it’s forbidden for an owner to abuse any animal. Doing so is even punishable, with a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of €16,750. 😱

READ MORE | Sharp rise in the number of cats and dogs used for animal testing in the Netherlands

What do we mean by “no stray dogs”?

The term “stray dog” can mean many different things:

  • Free-roaming dogs with an owner: they have an owner, but the owner lets the dog run partially free throughout the day
  • Free-roaming dogs without an owner: dogs that are abandoned by their owner
  • Community dogs: dogs that don’t have one owner but are cared for by a community
  • Feral dogs: dogs that are not cared for by anyone and survive on their own

Stray dogs are commonly unwanted, as they tend to spread disease, fleas, and mess with human garbage (among other things). Nowadays, there are hardly any stray dogs in the Netherlands, so the country is hailed for having eradicated the issue. 🙌

How did the Netherlands manage to eradicate its stray dog problem?

Not through euthanasia! Hurray! 🎉

The Dutch achieved it through the CNVR programme (Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Return), a nationwide, government-funded sterilisation programme. The World Animal Protection Agency believes it’s the most effective way to combat a stray dog population.

Additionally, many municipalities spike taxes for store-bought dogs to incentivise people to adopt homeless dogs from shelters instead. 💖

photo-of-white-puppy-laying-on-grass
Man’s best friend for millennia. Image: Pixabay

Further, the Netherlands set up an animal police force monitoring crimes against animals. Moreover, the force also rescues animals in trouble.

Marianne Thieme, the leader of the Party for the Animals, thinks there is a correlation between how society treats its animals with how it treat its civilians. She says, “there is a direct link between violence against animals and violence against humans.”

photo-of-seven-golden-retrievers-sitting-in-a-line-on-grass
Who wouldn’t love to adopt a little puppy? Image: Pixabay

These days, about one in five Dutchies owns a dog after taking a million of them off the streets. 💖

Have you adopted a furry companion yourself? What do you think of this little slice of Dutch history about stray dogs in the Netherlands? Tell us in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2019, and was fully updated in July 2022 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Freya Sawbridge
Freya Sawbridge
Freya was born in Edinburgh but raised in New Zealand (cue every person she meets saying “oh I have always wanted to go there but it’s so far away!”). A restless and curious nature has led her to move countries 5 times in the last 3 years in attempt to find a place she can call home. She contacted DutchReview on a whim and arrived in the Netherlands in summer 2019 to start her internship.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. Nice article, In India we have millions of stray dogs. Government have no time to restrict that. Thousands of dogs died in road accident daily. Stray dogs are biting hundreds of people daily.

    However, your article Is nice.

    Thanks a lot.

    • So it’s time for you to do something in your country. As far as my knowledge goes, the government runs ABC (Animal Birth Control) programs in your country, but it’s shabbily managed as Indians typically do. So you can contribute and bring a change. Start feeding a small group of animals, win their trust and then send them for neutering. This way you can pick small geographies at a time and monitor the population of dogs. There are a number of places in India which has a very high population of dogs. You can choose to vaccinate them with anti-rabies. You can actually work to bridge the gap between man and animals. As far as I know, a lot of Indians hate stray dogs. You know it for a fact that Indians are hypocrites to the core. Inside their house, they will worship deities having pictures of dogs and when they step out they will start pelting stones at the dogs. So you can bring a change here. The animal laws are quite strong in your country but seldom laws are exercised for animals. So be the voice of animals. Don’t just keep posting lame comments here. Don’t be an arm-chair activist. Do some groundwork and then come here with some data talking how effective your contributions have been. This will be something meaningful. You Indians are often referred to as ‘Bloody Indians.’ Do something to get rid of this tag. Good luck.

      • You have got no right, whatsoever, to use such abusive language for any thing on earth leave aside any human being. I don’t know your nationality but by name you appear to be an Indian who might have settled abroad. There are all kinds of people everywhere. Learn before advising others. Your language is the mirror where people can see your actual personality.

        • I am an indian you lives in India and spend my own money to sterilise and vaccinate dogs so that people like you can stay happy because the govt. doesn’t do anything. What is that you do actually except come online and complaint?

      • It is with a heavy heart and a shameful face that I agree with you completely, but for the past few years there has been a marked improvement in the situation .Now the youngsters have taken Up the challenge and are working hard towards the better ment of the situation

  2. Wait Germany doesn’t have stray dogs either. At least I’ve never seen or heard of any and I’ve lived here for 17 years.

  3. Looks like they managed to get this far by (mostly) non-violent means. Really happy to hear that about my country!

    • Hi Cazi,
      It’s forbitten to kill dogs without a medical reason to do so. There are animal shelters where dogs are being taken care of until they find their forever homes.

  4. We have adopted two stray dogs, one from Romania and one from the Greek Island Zakynthos.

    But to read you other article:
    “The amount of homeless people in the Netherlands has doubled in 10 years
    By Freya Sawbridge -August 23, 2019”
    Is very disturbing!
    I love dogs and I’m glad to read that the Netherlands are taking such good care of the animals. But what about the homeless people?

  5. For the one who asked about shelters ys we have them ( “dorks” are everywhere and also some cant have their pet anymore ) it are nice places with softbeds playgrounds and medcare we dont kill !
    We’ve animal ambulance in all our regions free to call when one sees a wounded animal ( can be even a bird ) or accident animals involved

  6. Of course the first-world countries don’t have stray dogs when they killed most of them at one or another point. Netherlands just did that way earlier than others. However, the way it is now IS commendable, but again in poorer countries, there’s not enough for (for most people) more important problems, let alone paying for animal police that would check up on every household to make sure animals are not abused. 🙁

    Also, a feral dog is not only a dog that survives on its own, it’s also a dog that has gone back into a wild-animal mode and would attack if it feels threatened. I have seen a lot of dogs on their own, but they weren’t aggressive (furthermore I have seen and am seeing more aggressive owner-dogs, especially the small annoying ones). A lot of them can come back to being great dogs if rehabilitated with lots of love, patience and effort. Stop stigmatising them.

  7. I agree that the “stray dog” categories suggested here are a bit off. A free roaming dog with an owner isn’t stray, it is just allowed to roam. A stray dog is a dog that doesn’t have an owner, but isn’t feral. Stray dogs live in human communities (villages, towns, urban), while feral dogs live in the wild.

    Also, the claim that Netherland is the “first” or “only” country to have no stray dogs is simply not true. There are other countries that have no stray dog populations, for a start most if not all the Scandinavian countries haven’t had any stray dog populations forever

  8. What a bunch of BS! This article makes us sound like we’re all true animal lovers taking care of them. Horrific animal abuse happens here too, hardly ever is a fine or jailsentence handed out. Animals are still seen as property. And there is no government funded program to catch, neuter n release. If done, it’s funded through private donations.
    Compared to other countries animals are treated pretty well here but it’s no nirvana

  9. Interesting article.
    The Dutch are good for their stray dogs.

    The problem about the homeless people in the Netherlands seems to be less important for some of us, including the Dutch government.

    Because of the raise of costs of housing and the reductions from the government on psychological help to the weakest of our sociality the number of homeless people explodes the last decade.
    From 18.000 people in 2009 to 40.000 in 2019.

    A large part of those people have to sleep in the streets because in the night care there is also a reduction of funds.

    Instead of stray dogs we have stray humans in the Netherlands.
    Hope soon we all will be as good for them as for the dogs.

    See the prefious comment of Nigel Skelton.

  10. This is an irresponsible and misleading article. Denmark does NOT follow Catch-Neuter-Release. All civilized nations follow a policy of responsible ownership, sheltering/adoption of homeless dogs and a zero tolerance policy towards straying animals.on the streets. This is for the protection of both people and animals.

  11. At the moment there are 315 dogs in shelters in the WHOLE country. On the website https://ikzoekbaas.dierenbescherming.nl/ all the shelters in our country list their animals. So you can adopt a dog from a shelter at the other side of the country. Once I adopted a cat from a shelter that was 200 km away. We have a shortage of adoptable animals so now we import them from other countries. In my apartment building there are only dogs that are imported. Including my own. He is from Spain.

  12. In Pakistan there are no facilities no shelters for stray dogs they suffer outside in rain cold and hot weather or die of starvation there is no law regarding animal rights I myself have seen many dogs in horrible conditions and all I can do is feed them a little bit but can’t do anything else a for them which leaves me heartbroken every time I wish I could just do anything for these poor creatures but all we get here is politicians enjoying their life doing corruption and making people a fool

  13. I have had four dogs and every one was a rescue dog. They have all been wonderful in their own way.
    I would never buy a dog from a breeder or store.

  14. When I was little my parents always let our bouvier cross out in the mornings, as did many of our neighbours. As children we used to play with our neighbourhood dogs. Shared our sweets /ice-cream with them. Once whilst out playing we were approached by a man we didn’t know, the three dogs we where playing with soon saw him off.

  15. Wonderful article. I am from Brazil and hate going back. I heard they have 30 million dogs there in the streets.My dream would be to spay and neuter all of them and educate the people. They are very prejudices about dogs without pedigrees. Things have improved little since I left there 40 years ago. I dread going back and have not gone to visit for 12 years or more. Would love to start some spay and neuter places for free all over Brazil and bring all the vets from different countries to train people to spay and neuter. People there are still abusing animals and yes they start with animals then become killers. Problem there is that they keep showing dogs dying on the streets and they always plea for someone else to go there and get them…they leave them where they are ..dying…no heart! Nothing changes there…

  16. In my country still dogs n cats legally killed. So shame. We need to change the law, system, and people’s mind to stop culling animals.

  17. Th best would be to sterelize almost all dogs especially the feral and stray. Stop breeding dogs which can be very cruel as they eliminate some and some like bulldogs can hardly breathe as there faces are crushed also all the interbreeding worsens their health.
    And they are often abbandoned.
    So instead of buying adopt abbandoned animals. Mixed breeds are often more intelligent and healthier. Dog owners must have their dogs chipped so the owners can be identified like they do in Italy by law. Of course all this is more difficult to do in developing countries where there is much poverty so the rich countries must help and last but not least try to change the mentality and inform.

    • No.

      I’ll say that again: *no*. If I want a particular breed of dog, that is what I want, and you have *zero* standing to tell me otherwise. Period.

  18. This is huge progress. Although you still have horrific abuse of the animals used to feed them. And the inherent abuse of them living with all the inbred/purebred bad genes, for things like hip dysplasia. A really advanced society would ban pets and animal ownership altogether.

  19. I’ve had a bitter sweet experience with stray dogs. 2 months ago 5 puppies were born on street and they became my best companions because I fed them since around day 15. I loved all of them some more than others. Until one day, one of them stopped eating and became lethargic and slow, he also started vomiting and bloody diarrhoea and died 2 days later I cried the night before he died because i felt he would die. I didn’t know what it was i thought it was a condition he was born with…until another one stopped eating and became slow…she died and then my 2nd favorite puppy out of the litter started showing same symptoms I felt it was not something they were born with and my assumption was wrong so I took her to vet. It was parvo virus. A common virus among puppies with 90% chance of death if left untreated. I took her to vet every day for 3 days two times a day(one in afternoon and other in evening disrupting my work but she was more important to me) and sadly she’s still not eating today and still lethargic although just a little bit more energetic than earlier, she’s still vomitting. I feel like she’s going to die and if that isn’t painful enough for me, this evening my favorite puppy also started showing those symptoms.

    • Thank you for taking care of these souls. Wishing recovery for them !
      Thank you for writing about this virus. I recognize the symptoms, but I was not aware that it is treatable.
      Please see if you can neuter/spay them in the future, to avoid others to be born in the streets.

  20. I think another reason for the absence of stray dogs (and relatively few stray/feral cats) is the amount of social housing in the Netherlands where the residents are allowed to keep pets (within reason). This is drastically different in places like the US and Canada where you generally rent from a private landlord and it’s more the norm for there to be a ‘no pets’ rule. That means if you are forced to move from a home where your pets are allowed to one where they’re not, unless you are able to find a new home for your cat or dog the only possible destination is the animal shelter or the streets. I’ve never been in that situation myself, fortunately, but I know someone who is faced with that right now and it is causing her enormous stress. So – if you are not that well off, thank your lucky stars you live in the Netherlands!

  21. Since 6 years we only adopt senior dog of the age 10+ from the shelter. It’s been so rewarding and heart fulfilling to see those animals blossom in the autumn of their life. “Adopt, don’t shop” should be the norm.

  22. The Netherlands might do a good job at home. But as a part-time resident of Bonaire, an island principality of the Netherlands, I can attest that there are currently (summer 2022) more than 250 dogs and god knows how many cats divided between the two shelters on island…with very little chance these animals will be adopted.

    It is time for the Netherlands to start to help out the overworked volunteers and staff of these ridiculously overcrowded shelters by getting groups of dogs to Holland, where they have a greater chance of being adopted. In this way, the shelter staff would be able to spend more time educating the island population about responsible pet ownership//trying to get spay/neuter laws passed on island and less time doing the thankless and difficult work of taking care of so many homeless animals. This situation needs to change, and fast. It’s unconscionable.

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