The Sad Realities of Thai Street Cats and Dogs

The current numbers of street cats and dogs in Thailand are astronomical and it seems like the worst has yet to come. There were approximately 860,000 street cats and dogs in 2017. That number is expected to skyrocket over the next few years, climbing up to over 2 million in 2027 according to the the deputy director-general of the Department of Livestock Development. So why exactly is the population of street cats and dogs so out of control?

A Dysfunctional society

We are not trying to point fingers or start any blame games because where there is blame, there is no learning. Which is why it is very important to move from blame to accountability. So what exactly is cause of the problem?

What we are about to say is extremely harsh but are actually and unfortunately true. Weak regulations and dysfunctional society filled with people who lack discipline and empathy are probably the biggest reasons why we are here.

In Thailand, it is not uncommon for pet owners to abandon their pets once they have gotten too old, too expensive to take care of due to various reasons (e.g., medical conditions), or even worse, when they are no longer "cute" or entertaining. Street cats and dogs usually have very short lifespan since they have to struggle, on a daily basis, with diseases, illness, lack of decent food and water, and the notorious Thai road traffics.

So what exactly happened to us? Why does it feel like these cruel practices have been normalized? And the answer is simple - because they have indeed been normalized. We simply cannot deny that no one would be surprised to see abandoned cats and dogs in temples, a classic location for dumping unwanted pets, or street cats and dogs suffering from road traffic injuries.

Now we are not accusing all pet owners of being irresponsible or Thai people in general of not trying to improve the situation. There are tons of compassionate people and organizations doing their best to help these streets cats and dogs in the form of sheltering provision, vaccination, and launching sterilization program. But these acts of compassion cannot undo the fact that hundreds of thousands of pets are being abandoned each year.

Thai legislation on pet ownership

There are very few provisions in the Thai legislation concerning pet ownership, all of which are extremely weak and are rarely enforced. As a result, pet abandonment often goes unreported and unpunished. Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, pet owners are not obligated to register their pets. So even if the penalty was severe it would be practically impossible to track down the owners.

We are not putting all the blames on government organizations who are behind the regulations, guidelines, and standards for Animal Care in Thailand. But there is no denying that the current system has enabled the cruel practices of pet abandonment. The lack of strong and clear regulations has indirectly supplemented the population of street cats and dogs. We believe it is practically impossible to create new practices or ethical standards without strong regulations and strategic approaches that focus on the long term.

There is a pet registration bill which have yet to be approved due to concerns regarding the expensive registration fees. More specifically, there are speculations that people would be less interested in adopting street cats and dogs and some owners may even abandon their pets to avoid paying the fees. As harsh as it may sound, we cannot help but feel like those people should not be having pets in the first place.

Should there be barriers to pet ownership?

Pets, specifically cats and dogs, in Thailand are incredibly inexpensive compared to other places. Vet's bills, on the other hand, are nothing but cheap and are often overlooked or underestimated, especially during the decision making process prior to buying the pets. As mentioned earlier, you are not required to register your pets with the local council. This combination has created a very dangerous purchase behavior.

Many people believe that it is cruel and unjust to assume that people living in poverty or facing temporary financial difficulties are less committed to their pets. We support the idea of promoting equity in pet ownership and adoption, but sometimes a line has to be drawn. Sometimes we have to be realistic and accept the fact that dogs and cats living in low-income households are most at risk of not receiving recommended care. Sometimes we have to accept the fact that a lot of the time, poverty will force people to surrender their pets no matter how much they love their pets.

Ideally, there should be some form of programs that focus on working to keep pets together with low-income owners. There should be a way to reduce the cost of vet care without diminishing quality. But these things take time and resources. Who will start? Who will be willing to make the sacrifices?

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

So is there light at the end of the tunnel? Would it be cruel to use class and financial stability as barriers for pet ownership, perhaps by raising the average cost of a pet? Would it be unethical to launch regulations which require all adoption centers to conduct a thorough investigation to examine whether the potential adopter is financially ready to provide a decent quality of life to the animal? Or is it more cruel and unethical to allow anyone to freely buy and adopt pets knowing that a large portion of them may not be able to provide appropriate environments and will likely experience difficulties accessing veterinary care.

Another interesting topic is whether we should feed strays. A lot of people who chose to abandon their pets in Thailand knew that a random stranger would come to the rescue, or even if the pets were to remain on the streets, the generous people of Thailand would feed them, which again, indirectly supplements the population of street cats and dogs. Would it be cruel to prohibit people from feeding strays since it is essentially more harmful in the long run?

Ultimately, there is no sacrifice-free solution to this issue. Again we believe strong regulations which cannot be easily exploited that focus on the long-term is key. The question is whether we are ready to accept the fact that the path to the solution may be unpleasant and we would have to make decisions which seem heartless and cruel.

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