The World Health Organisation estimates there are around 200 million stray dogs worldwide. Impressively, the Netherlands is not contributing to 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 cafes and restaurants are dog-friendly, and small pets can ride on public transport for a reduced price. Once, I even looked after a dog that had different flavoured meals for each night of the week (unreal, I know…). But all this dog-loving 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 for pets for sporting purposes, and the poorer masses owned mongrels (mutts) for working purposes. Many Dutch paintings depict the dogs of old, such as this one by Joseph Stevens:
Given its intrinsic link to social status, there was a massive dog population in the Netherlands during the 19th century. However, an outbreak of rabies caused widespread fear of contamination which led to many owners abandoning their disease-ridden pets. As a result, the societies’ 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.
During this time, the Dutch government also created a dog tax in an attempt to regulate the number of stray dogs in the Netherlands. It had the opposite effect, creating more strays as many people couldn’t afford (or didn’t want to pay) to keep their pet dogs.
In 1864, the first animal protection agency was set up in The Hague. A century later, the Animal Protection Act came into effect. Now, it’s forbidden for an owner to abuse any animal. Doing so is punishable with a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of €16,750.
What do we mean by “no stray dogs”?
The “stray dog” term is broken down into four components. These are:
1. Free-roaming dogs with an owner: they have an owner but the owner lets the dog run partially free throughout the day
2. Free-roaming dogs without an owner: dogs that are abandoned by owners
3. Community dogs: they don’t have one owner but are cared for by a community
4. Feral dogs: the dog is not cared for by anyone and survives on its own
There are hardly any stray dogs in the Netherlands, which is why the country is hailed as having eradicated the issue.
How did the Netherlands manage to eradicate its stray dog problem?
Not through euthanasia! Hurray!
They achieved it through the CNVR programme (Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Return), which is a nation-wide, government-funded sterilisation programme. The World Animal Protection Agency believes it’s the most effective way to combat a stray dog population.
Many municipalities spike taxes for store-bought dogs to incentivise people to adopt homeless dogs from shelters instead.
The Netherlands set up an animal police force to monitor crimes against animals, including rescue animals in trouble. Marianne Thieme, the leader of the Party for the Animals, thinks there is a correlation between how society treats their animals with how they treat their civilians. She says, “there is a direct link between violence against animals and violence against humans.”
These days, about one in five Dutchies owns a dog, having taken 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? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: paulicek0/Pixabay
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2019, and was fully updated in January 2021 for your reading pleasure.