Stray dog

What is known about stray dogs in the UK?

Stray dogs are generally homeless, or otherwise known as dogs without owners. It is estimated that there were 42,292 stray dogs across the UK in 2021, according to a stray dogs survey by Dogs trust. This is a significant figure.

Having recently read “A dangerous time for dogs”, which features a small pack of stray dogs living together in the forest, I was inspired to do some research on the subject of stray or free ranging dogs. These are dogs that live wild in the UK with only limited support from humans. Whilst the novel is primarily about the theft of dogs from homes, sometimes involving violence, it is also a story about the courage and spirit of such dogs.

On occasion, you may hear these dogs referred to as feral but, in fact, a wild dog freely roaming the countryside in the UK is actually a rarity. The word “feral” derives from the latin word “ferus” which means wild or savage and is used to describe dogs that might have previously been domesticated and living in a supportive environment but have since returned to the wild.

In this country, the kidnapping of domestic dogs on a regular basis provides criminals with a very healthy income and at very little risk to themselves. This problem became a great deal more serious during the early stages of the pandemic and eventually resulted in the establishment by the government of the Pet theft task force. Whilst in captivity, these unfortunate animals receive scant care from their criminal gaolers and suffer, not only appalling treatment but the additional agony of being parted from their human families.

These dogs are not like domestic animals because they have learned to survive on their own without the close contact and support of humans. However, they often rely on people for food and may cultivate relationships with them for their own good. On occasion these dogs form packs, usually under the control of a larger and more aggressive dog such as a Doberman Pinscher or similar.

The story tells of four feral dogs of different breeds, led by Trevor, a highly intelligent Patterdale Terrier, who actively assist a number of kidnapped dogs escape from their human captors and return to their family homes.

How do dogs come to be living wild

In the main, stray dogs begin life as domestic pets after being abandoned by their owners. This could be for a host of different reasons but, inevitably, the dogs are left to fend for themselves. Other dogs living wild may have been born of feral parents. In the novel, the feral pack, under the benign leadership of the Patterdale terrier, seem to revel in this life of freedom although sometimes suffering much hardship and strife. I would like to think that this is a true reflection of real life and that these dogs really are content with their lives as they are and relish the freedom to roam when and wherever they choose. However, it is far more likely that they live just to survive. In these circumstances, the hardship of winter cannot be underestimated.

To summarise, our local authorities have procedures in place to deal with the problem of stray dogs. It is a very sad fact that less than half will be reunited with their owners, leaving a significant number to be put down. However, the number of truly feral dogs is likely to be small in comparison. Feral populations are generally low, perhaps 2.5% of the free-ranging population. Most feral individuals are solitary scavengers that participate in a pack for only brief periods under a rigid hierarchy. Where I live, I don’t usually come across stray dogs and so I have been surprised by these figures. Please feel contact us at Lhasa Life if you have something to add to the conversation.

Photo by Alexey Demidov