Are we making a difference? Monitoring and evaluating dog populations

Dr Elly Hiby describes her role in various humane dog population management interventions in many countries around the world.

Over the past 12 years, I have been lucky enough to visit, and be involved in, humane dog population management interventions in many countries around the world. These interventions varied in their activities and focus, using necessarily different strategies to tackle dog population management through humane means. Commonly they involved increasing reproduction control and responsible dog ownership, to reduce unwanted litters and improve welfare in the existing dog population.

One uniting characteristic is that they all involved people who were working extremely hard to try and make a positive difference; both in the lives of dogs and in the people they live amongst. However, I rarely met anyone using objective measurements to test whether this positive difference was indeed occurring.

In 2005, I meet Jack Reece at Help in Suffering (HIS) in Jaipur, India, here was someone different. Jack and the dedicated team at HIS had conducted a simple street survey of roaming dogs; walking six routes through the city, same time of day, same time of year, same protocol of searching for dogs, every year for over a decade. I took the photo of the classic butter coloured Indian street dogs warming themselves in the morning sun, on just one of these survey walks. Using this patient and objective approach they had gathered data that did indeed show an impact of their work. You can read about the early results of this data in a paper published by Jack and his colleagues in Vet Record [1]. 

Fast forward to 10 years later, are we making a difference?

Fast forward to March 2015, and 10 years after first meeting Jack, I am launching ‘Are we making a difference?: a guide to monitoring and evaluating dog population management interventions’ with the ICAM Coalition at their International dog population management conference. Thanks to Jack and others like him, we have collated our current understanding of the most efficient and meaningful ways of measuring our impact into one place. It’s a proud day for the coalition, the conference is providing an excellent platform for people to share examples of the data they have collected to reflect changes in the lives of dogs and people, plus the lessons they have learnt from this data and used to improve interventions. And the guidance itself is the perfect example of how much more we can do for our animal welfare movement when we work together as a collegial group. 

Much of my day is now spent implementing this guidance with organisations around the world; setting in place methods that will deliver objective data over the coming years. This will expose where projects are having a positive impact, but just as importantly, will reflect where there are problems, allowing interventions to evolve in a targeted and informed way. It’s fun work, exploring new places as we measure the density and welfare of roaming dogs on street surveys, or delving into questionnaire data to understand how communities are treating their dogs and perceiving how dogs impact their society. It’s also humbling experience, monitoring impact is no longer a niche pastime and I am learning new methods from innovative organisations as often as I am teaching them.

Although it may appear dry and data-orientated, I really believe monitoring and evaluation will allow us to enter a new phase of humane dog population management, making evidence-based decisions on how best to help dogs, and people they depend upon, live better lives.

Further reading

[1] Reece and Chawla (2006) Control of rabies in Jaipur, India, by the sterilisation and vaccination of neighbourhood dogs. Veterinary Record, 159, 379-383.


* This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions represented in this blog belong solely to the blog owner and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.