A stray is an animal which was previously domesticated, usually a pet, and that now has no home. Stray animals are mostly dogs and cats that have been abandoned by their owners. These animals then roam the streets and surrounding areas or live in animal shelters. Shelters do not have the capacity to care for all stray animals and often become overwhelmed by the sheer numbers, resulting in millions of stray animals being euthanised every year, all over the world.
Cyprus is also home to many stray animals. As with other places in the world these strays are mostly dogs and cats. Dogs in Cyprus are mainly abandoned when they are not wanted and picked up by other people and animal shelters. Cats are also collected by people and shelters however, most remain outside and form their own, large populations. It has been estimated that there are about 1.5 million stray cats throughout Cyprus, this is greater than the number of people living on the island.
Stray animals pose a huge problem not only for the animal itself but also for the surrounding environment. The animals suffer as they are often killed by cars, sustain injuries, catch diseases and overall, have a low quality of life. They can cause traffic disruptions as people swerve to avoid them when they cross the roads. They cause noise pollution as they are often active at night. They dig through bins and rip bags to find food, scattering rubbish around neighbourhoods. They are unvaccinated so they often carry diseases and parasites which can be passed it on to other humans and animals. Stray animals, particularly cats, pose a threat to the natural balance of the ecosystem, as they hunt and kill native animal species that should be protected. There has yet to be a study done in Cyprus, but in the USA, it has been estimated that cats kill 1.3-4.0 billion birds per year.
There are ways in which this situation can be remedied. Importantly, an increase in government funding and programs is needed to tackle the massive task of controlling strays in Cyprus, however, each individual needs to do their part.
- Keep your pets indoors, this way they can’t breed, catch diseases or kill native wildlife.
- Neuter your cats and dogs, this will reduce the breeding population.
- Vaccinate your pets on time so they can’t catch or spread diseases.
- Do not get a pet unless you are certain you can care for it, consider all possibilities and do your research beforehand.
- Never release any pets into the wild, if you cannot care for them try and find someone who can and next time always be certain before getting a pet.
- Do not buy dogs and cats from a breeder or pet shop, visit your local animal shelter and adopt to try and reduce the numbers of strays.
- If you are feeding stray cats, take responsibility for them by attempting to neuter them, this is often easier if they become accustomed to you as kittens so you can catch them later.
Stray animals are a large problem both in Cyprus and worldwide. Not only do the animals themselves suffer but they also present issues for humans and native animals. Each person can make a conscious effort to bring about a solution through awareness and individual action along with the assistance of the government that needs to plan and carry out a massive project of neutering.
*Christina Baldwin, B.Sc. Zoology, M.Sc. Tropical Biology.