Long version of village dog dinner time: population size discussion

By my definition, a community dog is a dog who is not attached to one particular owner, but part of the (human) community they share a space with. In some scientific papers, community dogs are referred to as unowned free-roaming dogs. The dogs in this video are community dogs in a village of approximately 1000 people.

A village dog, by my definition, is a free-roaming dog who lives in a village. Village dogs can be both owned or unowned, and owned and unowned free-roaming village dogs rub shoulders during the day. At night, the owned free-roamers will be home with their human family while the community dogs will wait for their dinner, and then find their own places to sleep. (In this particular village, lots of food stands are empty and covered at night, and they are easily accessible, and provide shelter from the elements. This is likely where at least some of them sleep.)

Interesting side note: I have not seen community dogs in cities. In my experience, urban free-roamers are usually owned.

Community dog population size

The community dog population is likely stable over time. That is to say, there is likely a certain number of dogs the niche the community is able to support, and it is fairly consistent. Let’s say (just picking a random number here) the community dog population is 10 dogs. Why would it be 10? Because there is enough food for 10 dogs. These dogs are intact, so they are having puppies (mixing their genes with owned village dogs), but this does not make the community dog population grow.

Throughout the day, they scavenge at food stands and find the chips and other food dropped by kids on their way home from school, and at night, they get fed by one or two people like Veronica in this video. Neither Veronica nor the kids are going to produce more left-overs or drop more food when there is a new litter of puppies on the ground. They share a space and share resources, and this is what it’s always been like. Nobody sees it as their obligation to support an ever-growing number of dogs (this would be as strange as supporting an ever-growing number of rats).

How does the population size stay consistent despite the fact that everyone is having puppies? Well, over 60% of free-roaming puppies die before they reach reproductive age themselves. This isn’t a shocking number; it’s similar for wild canids such as wolves. So only about 40% of all puppies even get to a point where they have the chance to permanently join the community dog population.

The community dog population sometimes opens up a spot: this happens when someone in town loses a dog, or maybe their kid really wants a dog, and they have the time, space, and resources to get one. So they’ll take one of the community dogs out of the population, and this dog will now become an owned village dog who eats at home and may or may not be free-roaming (most are, but unless they live very close to Veronica’s quesadilla stand, they are unlikely to keep coming back there once they get food at their house).

Let’s say someone just took a dog out of the community dog population. Now, there are only 9, which leaves one spot open – for example for a puppy to fill, like the white puppy in this video (*). A spot will also open up anytime one of the community dogs dies. How do they die? For example of age-related issues (the life expectancy of community dogs is lower than the life expectancy of pet dogs, just like the life expectancy of wild animals is significantly lower in the wild than in a zoo), because they get run over by a car, or are injured by a car in such a way that they can’t recover without veterinary care. Or if they happen to have or develop an illness that will kill them without veterinary care (cancer, diabetes, heart worm desease etc.). What happens to the rest of the new puppies? Well, puppies are cute. So some community puppies will immediately become owned village dogs because the humans know that the puppies are community puppies and can be claimed.

This particular village doesn’t generally have tourists, so it is unlikely that anyone gets stolen. The puppies who don’t become owned village dogs or find an open spot in the community population may make it to the next community over, and find an open spot there. Or they may get run over. Puppies don’t know what they are doing yet, and they are small. Even though drivers in this town generally look out for the dogs, the tinier you are, the harder you are to see, and if you don’t know that you shouldn’t fall asleep under a bus about to drive off … well. I’d venture this is the most common cause of death for puppies (but I do not have data on this).

Spay/neuter clinics

Let’s say you, an outsider, come into this town, learn about the stable community dog population and consider the fact that most puppies don’t make it a tragedy. You decide that there is a problem, and you are going to solve it. Your own background culture preaches spay and neuter, so you start a fundraiser and get a spay-and-neuter-clinic to come to this town, say, the first and third weekend of January. It’ll be in the churchyard, it’ll be free, and you start putting up posters to advertise it in November. The posters say to bring your dog to get them spayed/neutered.

What’s going to happen the first and third weekend of January? People are indeed going to come and get their dogs spayed and neutered for free. Some of the dogs who’ll end up spayed/neutered will be pet dogs (dogs who would not have contributed their genes to the community dog population in any case because they are not allowed to roam free). Most of them will be owned free-roaming village dogs, simply because most village dogs are owned free-roamers. So their genes were part of the village dog gene pool in the past, but won’t be in the future. Will there be a community dog at your spay/neuter clinic? Unlikely, unless you go out of your way to catch one and bring them to the clinic yourself. In any case, the vets you fund-raised for will have spayed and neutered a whole bunch of village dogs by the end of the second weekend, and you will feel good about yourself.

Does the population shrink?

Here’s the thing though: this is not going to make a dent in the size of the community dog population. The niche can still support 10 community dogs, and that means that there will always be 10 community dogs. Why? Because there is no way you’ll spay/neuter every single dog in the village. So you have decreased the gene pool by spaying/neutering owned free-roamers, but you are not decreasing the size of the population because there are still dogs having puppies left and right.

Even if – and this is not a realistic scenario – you managed to spay/neuter every single dog in this village, you would not decrease the size of the community dog population. The community dog population will stay at 10 for as long as the niche is able to support 10 dogs. How? Well, you’ve spayed/neutered everyone in this village, so there are no new puppies being born in this village right now. But the moment one of the existing village dog dies – a spot opens up, since there are now only 9 – someone else is going to fill this spot. If it is not a puppy being born in this village, it will be a dog from the next village over. This dog will likely not be spayed/neutered. Alright – so far, they are the only dog who is intact in this village. But if they are female, once they get in heat, a male dog from the next village over will pay her a visit. And now, you’ll have a bunch of puppies. There is now less supply of puppies in this village, so it’s entirely possible that all of these puppies become owned free-roaming village dogs right away. And they are all intact. You see where I’m going with this? I don’t know how to mathematically model this, but the thought experiment shows (I believe) that spay/neuter clinics do not impact population size in countries where dogs generally roam free. If you are reading this and know how to visualize the scenarios, go for it!

Yep, I have an opinion on this …

I’m not a vet, and I am not telling you whether to spay/neuter or not spay/neuter your dog(s) – that’s between you and your vet. I’m also not telling you whether to let or not let your dog roam free. This is between you and yourself (and maybe between you and your dog, but mostly, let’s be honest, between you and yourself. You are your dog’s benevolent or not-so-benevolent dictator, after all, and you are the one with the opposable thumbs who does or doesn’t open the gate.)

There is one thing I will tell you though: in my opinion, the fact that there are and always will be 10 (hypothetical number, remember) community dogs is not a problem. I am an outsider, and I am not going to organize any spay/neuter clinics.

I don’t come from a background culture that preaches spay/neuter – I come from a country where it is illegal to remove a dog’s reproductive organs unless it is medically necessary. It is possible that this is part of the reason I don’t see the consistent 10 community dogs as a problem – I don’t know. It is very likely part of the reason I do not spay or neuter my own dogs.

I don’t ever want biological kids and my periods are always painful, my gender identity is not feminine and I have zero emotional attachment to my reproductive organs. And yet, I have not spayed/neutered myself (even though it would be nice to not have periods). Since I don’t experience gender dysphoria, a surgery like this seems excessive. So why would I subject my dog to it?

Important aside: I fully support everyone’s right to have surgery. It should absolutely be covered by your medical insurance, and it is fucking aweful that the US has started taking these rights from the trans community. Fuck this fascist shit! I’m just saying I don’t want surgery myself. Anyways, I digress.

… or two …

I do not see free-roaming dogs and their life expectancy as a problem, I believe, because I’m under the impression that most community dogs are living a good life while they are alive, even if most puppies don’t survive. Sure, they may have fleas, which is annoying. They may have a bearable load of endoparasites they don’t notice much. But other than that? They have a lot of freedom, they eat better than my own dog (who is mostly on kibble), and they have active social lives and both human and canine friends. Death is a natural part of life – I don’t see it as tragic if a dog dies at a young rather than an old age as long as they don’t suffer, and the life that they did have was a pleasant one.

(We need to define/operationalize “a good life” as well as “freedom.” If you’re reading this – share your definition in the comments! Does it differ depending on the species you are talking about?)

… or three.

I am clearly projecting my own values on these dogs, and I am trying to stay aware of it. I personally value life quality A LOT, and life quantity not all that much. That, I believe, is the reason I see things the way I do: not a problem; just life. I also value personal freedom greatly, and “safety” (something else that needs to be defined/operationalized) relatively little. And I can’t stand it when someone tries to control me or doles out unsolicited advice.

Based on my own values, I am okay with the way community dogs and owned free-roaming village dogs live their lives, reproduce, and do their thing. It’s not my place to intervene into their lives, physical integrity, or reproductive behavior.

The video (finally, we’re talking about the video!)

The video starts just after Veronica, who runs a (most delicious!) quesadilla stand, has doled out the dogs’ dinner. Every day, throughout the day, she fills a bucket with leftovers, and in the evening, she’ll add whatever won’t be used anymore the next day. She and her granddaughter clean up, and then, the last thing they do before they go home: they empty out the bucket for the dogs. The dogs will start coming by and waiting around 6pm, when Veronica closes the place. The dogs’ dinner is around half past 6, when everything else has been cleaned and put away.

What do they eat, you wonder? Here in this video, the bucket contains intestines (chicken hearts – those are first to go, stomach – probably venison, liver), sheep bones, veggies (among them chili peppers, which are the red things the dogs only eat in the end), and tortillas de maíz. It’s pretty much what you’d feed your dog if you were feeding a home-cooked or raw diet.

Veronica knows the dogs, and they all have names, typically referring to a physical characteristic of theirs (for example, the little curly one is “Chinito” – literally “little curly guy”). Veronica also knows the dogs’ personalities. The brindle male with the black back, Wilson, is one she keeps in check: he used to beat the other dogs up and not let them eat until he was done. You can see this in the video: some of them don’t dare to approach the pile while Wilson is here, and Veronica will come back occasionally to shoo him away. He doesn’t show any food guarding behavior towards the other dogs, but based on their body language, we can tell that they are being tentative around him. (They are not afraid of Veronica, even though it might look that way because she stays close as long as Wilson is close – they are all sociable towards people.)

The only dog in the video who keeps a respectful distance from Veronica is Wilson: he has likely had a close encounter or two with that very bucket she is swinging at him. It is no longer necessary for her to implement punishment – he knows, just based on her coming closer or talking to him, when it is time to retreat. You can see him keep an eye on Veronica just like the other dogs are keeping an eye on him.

The female who only approaches the food towards the end and occasionally jumps on me is my friend – I don’t have a relationship with any of the others. However, that female may have had a memorable encounter with Wilson in the past because she doesn’t even think about approaching while he is around. You’ve met her in a previous video:

The white puppy is also particularly interesting. See how they’re experimenting with what they can get away with around Chinito, who has a bone the puppy would very much like for themselves?

(*) Foreshadowing: this very puppy is going to also be taken out of the community dog population, and become an owned free-roaming dog. You are going to meet them again under different circumstances in a future video.

2 thoughts on “Long version of village dog dinner time: population size discussion

  1. Chrissi Schranz says:

    Thank you, Ted! I appreciate it! A lot of what I wrote in this post is opinion. There’s no right or wrong opinion on spay/neuter campaigns – especially from non-vets! I think that is the most important thing for all of us to stay aware of: our opinion is valid, but not superior to the next person’s opinion because we can’t ask the dogs directly. (Only if veterinary science or population science [I’m not even sure there is such a thing as population science] was someone’s field, it would at the very least be a more informed opinion, and it would weigh more than the opinion of non-vets/non population-scientists.)

  2. Theo Jak e/o Zimet says:

    Thanks for this vid,
    your background information
    and thoughts on intervention (spay/neuter).
    I like your acceptance and hesitations to intervene.
    In other words: your quiet contemplation of the scene.

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