July 19, 2007 / 9:24 AM / 12 years ago

Taiwan hopes to muzzle stray dog problem in 10 years

TAIPEI, July 19 (Reuters Life!) - When executives step off subways and dash past gleaming hotels to their offices in Taipei, they may be dogged by a few diseased, homeless animals.

Yuki (C), adopted from street, and her owner, Shi Chia-hsin (L), watch Yadi (R), also adopted from street, receive an order from his owner during a dog training program at the Formosan Animal-Assisted Activity and Therapy Association in Taipei, July 14, 2007. When executives step off subways and dash past gleaming hotels to their offices in Taipei, they may be dogged by a few diseased, homeless animals. REUTERS/Pichi Chuang

Stray dogs are a common sight in poor, less developed cities but Taiwan’s modern, bustling capital is also full of them.

Official statistics show about 179,460 stray dogs live on the island of 23 million people, down from 666,590 a decade ago.

The problem began in the 1980s, when Taiwan saw a boom in pet dogs following economic success.

Residents bought puppies, especially fashionable breeds shown in the media, without expecting them to grow bigger, and then abandoned the adult animal on a rural road.

Some owners would also cast away dogs that got sick, said Wu Hung, president of the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan, who estimates that about 300,000 strays live in the island, mainly in wooded suburbs.

Residents complained about the canine menace and the government has been fighting the problem for years.

In the 1990s, Taiwan cities and counties would drown or starve dogs, animal rights groups say. Now they are sent to shelters and put down after a week unless adopted.

Officials have also launched a campaign to convince owners that their pets are not disposable objects.

“With a dog now, you’ve got to raise it all the way,” said Jiang Wen-chuan, a livestock chief under Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture. “It’s like a child. You can’t just cast it off.”

Jian expects the number of strays to decline to about 100,000 over the next decade but some international animal rights groups say Taiwan’s control methods just won’t work.

Street dogs multiply so fast that dog catchers cannot get them all, said Wu. Animal activists recommend that Taiwan neuter and release strays as the authorities do in India.

“It would be hard to say there has been no progress,” said Merritt Clifton, editor of the U.S.-based newspaper Animal People. “But Taiwan is among the places where the problem continues to be addressed in a one-dimensional, reactive manner.”

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