Pet homelessness is a problem you can’t avert your eyes from in Brazil. All over the country, dogs and cats roam the streets, looking for food, tails firmly tucked between their legs in the case of dogs, as their treatment by humans, when they have to fend for themselves, is less than kind, to say the least.
According to the World Health Organization, there are around 20 million abandoned dogs and 10 million abandoned cats across Brazil. In recent years, with the advent of social networks and the possibility to advertise rescues, the pet rescue movement has grown rapidly, with shelters of various levels of professionalism popping up all over the country. However, the demand for help by far outstrips the ability of animal lovers to help all the animals in distress they come across.
Animals are often rescued after being hit by cars or wounded during accidents or acts of cruelty, pushing up the costs of emergency veterinary care. Their carers run up debts at veterinary clinics, relying on donations of individuals who empathize with the cause.
In theory, the state should provide animal services on a municipal level, but only a few exceptional municipalities offer rescue and care services. In most cities, public shelters are grim, underfunded operations where dogs and cats languish until they die, hoping for an adoption that never comes. Few public shelters promote adoption fairs and often they rely on the help of local organizations to care for the animals.
Sadly, a lot of Brazilians buy breed pets as a status symbol and are obsessed with small-sized breed dogs. Street dogs, mostly mongrels that Brazilians call ‘vira-latas’, are rarely as small as potential adopters would like them to be. Those dogs are the result of centuries of cross-breeding between various European breeds that produced a lean, short-haired dog type, whose hybrid genetic make-up often results in better health and great looks.
When it comes to cats, breed seems to be less relevant to the national mindset, but there are also fewer rescue operations dedicated to them – and less overall empathy for felines.
The solution for pet homelessness is, similarly to other places, a ban on pet sale and breeding. Brazilian cities need to get their act together and offer free spaying and neutering services, a necessity in a country where most people cannot afford those procedures.
It will be a long road to eradicating the pet homeless problem in Brazil, and it will take a lot of education and political goodwill. But the cultural shift regarding pets in the last few years is a positive sign that there is hope for homeless animals in Brazil, where one day every pet might have a loving home. As they should and deserve.
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