Created in 2017 as part of a new stray animal care strategy, the community engagement programme aims to address stray animal issues over a longer period of time. We are also aiming to work closely with key community members and to increase public engagement. Prior to that, FOUR PAWS was already operating stray animal care projects around the world, but the focus was less on the involvement and engagement from municipalities and members of the community.
Outreach and education on Koh Chang, Thailand
In 2017, FOUR PAWS organised a Stray Animal Care mission on Koh Chang, the largest and most popular island in eastern Thailand. Dogs suffer greatly here: they are frequently abandoned and left to fend for themselves without care, get often hit by vehicles, poisoned by hotel owners, and are even being stolen and eaten by Cambodian construction workers. The mission was an opportunity to test our new community outreach programme by involving the local community in order to help more animals. Over the course of one week, we held five outreach and education events in temples and schools across the island to raise the awareness about the needs of stray animals and to promote responsible ownership. It was a two-way communication, as we connected with 300 children and adults, including local village leaders, learned about the residents’ attitudes and behaviour towards stray animals, as well as their own pet ownership practices. Despite the many animal welfare issues on Koh Chang, we left the island on a positive note as we did not witness one single conflict between the community and their dogs. On the contrary, owners seemed to take very good care of their dogs, and the wider community are generally compassionate towards street dogs, often providing them with food and shelter.
Visiting schools and Buddhist temples in Phnom Penh, Thailand
After the success of our initial mission in Thailand, it was time to broaden our outreach efforts. In Cambodia, there is immense animal suffering, and with the rampant dog and cat meat trade in the country, there was a desperate need for a stray animal care mission in December 2018. Armed with educational materials in the FOUR PAWS tuk-tuk - the fastest way to travel through the always jammed city of Phnom Penh - we visited pagodas (Buddhist temples) and schools across the capital. Together with Animal Rescue Cambodia (ARC), we ran workshops on animal care and responsible pet ownership for the resident monks, as well as children of different ages and learning levels. The dog and cat meat trade topic was introduced through a role play based on the true story of a dog named Diamond, who had been rescued from the trade by ARC. During one of the early morning sessions, we surprised a group of engaged students with a visit from the real dog Diamond. They were delighted to meet him, and we are sure these students will share what they have learnt with those around them, helping to increase awareness on animal welfare issues throughout the country
Outreach in the rural community of Silk Island, Cambodia
Recently, our team supported another FOUR PAWS mission in Cambodia with community outreach at two Buddhist temple sites on Silk Island, a small rural island community on the outskirts of the bustling metropole of Phnom Penh. Set up adjacent to the mobile clinic, local children and interested residents were invited to learn about the work of our vets while joining the workshops. As each community faces different challenges, we also adapted our messages on Silk Island. By showing children how to approach stray animals safely, this would help reduce animal suffering and bite incidents (happening frequently in rural areas) as they learn how to recognise dog and cat body language, and can act more safely around animals they encounter. Children from different villages of the island showed up very early in the morning waiting patiently for the sessions to start, confirming their empathy for animals and eagerness to learn. While these children showed love and compassion for animals, animal abuse in these areas remains a common practice, which is why it is crucial to continue to educate future generations about the plight of stray animals.
Working with stakeholders in the port town of Galaţi, Romania
While continuing our outreach and education efforts in Southeast Asia, we have brought the programme to the next level in Europe, by focusing on the long-term engagement of municipalities and community members. In 2019, we developed the first ever FOUR PAWS community engagement project together with Animal Society, our partner in Romania. Located on the Danube river, the city of Galaţi was selected as a pilot site because of the significant stray dog problems. Over the last year, our team travelled there frequently to hold workshops with key stakeholders. These workshops have helped build a shared sense of understanding, purpose and action among stakeholders, and have led to the setup of a taskforce of motivated community members who designed their own action plan to manage stray and owned dogs in the city. This plan includes activities to address the root causes of roaming dogs in the city, such as:
- public education to improve behaviour towards strays and reduce abandonment of dogs,
- shelter adoption campaigns to increase local adoption rates
- animal sterilisation interventions to reduce the stray dog population.
This project was planned to be launched and implemented on World Stray Animal Day (April 4), but unfortunately this has been postponed due to the COVID-19 crisis. Nevertheless, we are confident that Galaţi will become a role model for changing the future of stray dogs in Romania and in the region.
Community engagement can be very powerful for bringing about changes and improving the wellbeing of the community. FOUR PAWS is working towards empowering communities by helping them develop humane, efficient and sustainable solutions to their problem with stray animals with a focus on responsible ownership. We will continue our work in the regions where FOUR PAWS is active creating sustainable change and hope more communities will be inspired to follow.