City and Suburban Dwellers: Ever Considered This Creative Idea for Your Dogs?

Story at-a-glance
  • The animal shelter community is transforming itself. No-kill shelters are the new model, and finding ways to euthanize fewer dogs is the goal.
  • To be optimally healthy, pet dogs need more freedom to choose where they go and what they do.
  • How an inventive group of Philadelphia neighbors created their own backyard dog park so their pets could roam freely all day from yard to yard and house to house.

In this final segment of her 4-part video series, Dr. Becker concludes her fascinating interview with Ted Kerasote, bestselling author of Merle's Door and a new book due out next year, Why Dogs Die Young and What We Can Do About It.

By Dr. Becker

In part 3 of my interview with Ted, we discussed his world travels to research material for his upcoming book.

We also talked about the way dogs are raised in European countries as compared to how they are raised in this country. This led to a fascinating discussion about the reasons behind why we only spay/neuter in the U.S. and don't even consider other sterilization options for our pets.

We also talked about how breeding dogs has taken on a negative connotation in our culture, driven in large part by the fact that we're still euthanizing two million unwanted dogs each year in shelters.

The Shelter World is Undergoing a Transformation

In his research for his upcoming book, Ted has observed that the shelter world is undergoing a sea change in the way it operates. No-kill shelters have become the model for the industry. The spirit of the shelter effort is transforming into one in which the goal is to find ways to kill fewer dogs.

Ted notes that some shelters in some communities have done a much better job reducing euthanasia rates than others. He visited a lot of shelters and observed the situation from all sides of the story. His takeaway is that if a community wants to reduce its kill rate and gets directly behind their local shelters to do that, it can happen.

This is another really exciting aspect of Ted's new book that I can't wait for all of you to experience. He has done some wonderful work which will clear up misunderstandings regarding the shelter world. I'm confident from what Ted has told me that his book has the potential to change how we approach our pet overpopulation problem. What he's proposing has worked, and not just in one location. It has been repeated a number of times in different locations, which means it has the potential to work anywhere.

Creating Dog-Friendlier Communities

Another subject, and really one of the central themes of Ted's upcoming book, is that today's dogs need more freedom to be optimally healthy.

In a chapter in his new book which he titled 'Dogspeed,' Ted poses questions about how to increase the freedom of city and suburban-dwelling dogs. How do we create more dog-friendly communities? How do we venture into a suburban neighborhood and say, 'You know, we need more free-roaming dogs here. How can we accomplish that?'

Ted actually received a note from a reader in Philadelphia who, along with a few of his neighbors, came up with a very creative solution for their dogs.

The man wrote and said, 'We live on a busy street in Philadelphia. Six of us who live in a row right next door to each other all have fenced yards to keep our dogs from getting out on the street. We decided to put dog doors in each fence and each home. So now when we go to work each day, the dogs have the freedom of six yards to play in and six homes to go in and out of. When I come home, I often don't know where my dog is. I have to check all five other houses to find him!'

Ted thinks this is a very creative solution, and I agree – it's awesome!

The dogs are no longer standing at the fence barking at each other all day out of boredom or frustration. They're playing together. So that's a very creative solution, implemented in a community close to downtown Philadelphia!

Other Dog-Friendly Ideas

Another dog-friendly move Ted has personally witnessed happened in his own little village of Kelly, Wyoming.

When he first moved to Kelly some 25 years ago, there was much less vehicle traffic than there is today. The population has grown by about 35 people, which is a significant jump from the original 90!

The youngsters in town are now of driving age, so the number of cars and trucks has increased. Plus, drivers of every age are more distracted these days with the use of cell phones, expensive car stereo systems and so forth. And then there are those with 'lead feet' -- people who simply drive too fast.

Over the years, it has become more and more risky for the village's free-roaming dogs, people on horseback, and wildlife like deer and moose to share the roads with increasing vehicular traffic.

So the community installed speed bumps on the main road into the village, which slowed everyone down to about 15 miles an hour. It has been a very cost-effective solution to the problem. Ted thinks there are a number of traffic flow modifications neighborhoods can implement to make areas more dog-friendly.

Also, when he happened to be visiting South Africa's national parks, Ted noticed the campgrounds are fenced and the animals roam freely outside the enclosed areas. He began to wonder if it would be feasible for some communities to fence the entire neighborhood so the dogs could roam freely.

Ted realizes there are pros and cons to all these ideas, but his point is we've somehow defaulted to the position that our dogs should be the ones sequestered in the house or behind a fence. He doesn't think this is good for the health of dogs, and we need to find creative solutions that allow our canine companions the freedom to make some of their own choices about where to go and what to do.

I want to offer my sincere thanks to Ted Kerasote for his time and the fabulous insights he offered during our time together. I am eagerly anticipating his new book due out in October 2012, Why Dogs Die Young and What We Can Do About It.

+ Sources and References