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The Netherlands has become the first country in the world that has solved its stray dog problem. It seems that almost all dogs in the country have been rehomed and are now companions of humans. There is hardly any stray dog left.

A stray dog is either a free-roaming dog with an owner, a free-roaming dog without an owner, a community dog or a feral dog (no longer cared for by anyone and surviving on his or her own). According to the World Health Organisation, there are around 200 million stray dogs worldwide, and many countries have a considerable number which is a serious health and animal welfare problem. Some research has found a correlation between country prosperity and the number of stray dogs.

The Netherlands used to be one of these. Because owning a dog was a sign of social status, during the 19th century there was a huge dog population in the country. However, an outbreak of rabies caused widespread fear and many people abandoned their “pets” (a classic answer when people treat animals as “pets” they own rather than companions they share a life with). Later, the Dutch government created a dog tax in an attempt to regulate the number of stray dogs, but it had the effect of more abandonments as many people couldn’t afford it.

The problem was eventually solved with two tactics: firstly, the CNVR program (Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Return), which is a government-funded sterilization program. Secondly, many municipalities increased taxes for dogs bought in shops to incentivize people to adopt homeless dogs from shelters instead. It seems that, with time, these tactics worked. And today, about one in five Dutch people share their life with a dog, after taking a million of them off the streets. Approximately 1.5 million companion dogs are living in homes in the Netherlands now.

I have been in the Netherlands often, and I can say I have never seen any country that treats dogs as the Dutch do. Almost all shops allow dogs in, and inside you often see bowls with water for their canine customers. Trains allow dogs if they pay their ticket too (there are cheaper tickets for dogs!). The city’s parks are full of packs of dogs composed of dog friends who meet every day as their companion humans ensure they keep these canine relationships fresh. Therefore, I am not surprised that the Netherlands has become the first country to solve the stray dog problem, without using any lethal method.