Canaan dogs and desert pariahs



Should free living desert dogs be rescued and aided.

Posted by duncanschroeter on March 25, 2014 at 11:30 PM

Should free living dogs be “rescued”

When free living dogs are seen, often the first reaction of dog lovers is to want to help or rescue them. Others say they are “wild” and should be left strictly alone in the world of nature. There are a number of factors that should be kept in mind when making a decision on this.

Archaeological evidence shows the presence of dogs in the Middle East for thousands of years and of dogs resembling today’s desert pariahs and sight hounds on the Arabian peninsula are to be seen in rock carvings probably dating back 5 thousand years, before the time of the biblical Abraham. Sight hounds have been considered the dog of the ruling class so are even today better known and sought after, while the desert dogs of today have largely lived free or in association with Bedouin, used to give early warning of intruders to the goat or sheep herds and camps. While these dogs are often seen moving with a herd, the Bedouin do not use them to herd and move the sheep in response to commands. They have not been selectively bred by the Bedouin and owe their alert and wary behaviour to survival in the harsh conditions relying on themselves to survive. They are predominantly scavengers rather than full time hunters. There has not been any long term scientific study done on them as they tend to be overlooked as unimportant and “just our wild dogs” by the general population and are seen as a potential threat by wildlife organisations trying to preserve other threatened species. However the few wolf carcases that have been checked in Saudi Arabia did not show evidence of dog hybridisation. Because of this lack of formal studies we have no solid knowledge of average litter size or survival rate to adulthood, nor of the average age these dogs my reach in their free living state, or indeed much else.

What we do know is that they have survived unaided by man for far longer than any modern, man selected breed has existed. So should we intervene now by rescuing or feeding them? Undoubtedly they deserve being preserved.

Rapid growth in cities has resulted in many desert dogs finding themselves in situations where they have to contend with multi-lane busy highways and situations and conditions where it is probably far more difficult for them to survive without help and they can find themselves heavily infested with ticks that literally suck the life out of them. With local populations that often do not understand and even fear dogs, civil authorities and individuals may sometimes resort to attempting to solve what is perceived as a problem by shooting dogs to remove the perceived problem, not infrequently using a number of shots to kill the unfortunate animal as it tries to escape. Food scraps may be harder to find as mans rubbish is carted away by modern disposal units. Areas where water may have previously accumulated may be covered over during human development programs, resulting in severe dehydration in the extreme summertime temperatures.

In addition modern breeds of dogs including some such as Huskies, totally unsuited to the climate, have been imported to the large cities have become sought after status symbols and therefore deliberately bred. Unfortunately expats all too often do not plan ahead for their departure or may have to depart earlier than planned and when they find out the cost involved either abandon their best friend to the streets or place them in “rescue” kennels some of which, due to pressures, end up killing the dogs when they are not quickly re-homed. Those abandoned on the streets probably find it harder to survive than the desert dogs do, but may also join up with desert dogs resulting in cross breeds if they had not been de-sexed.

There is an increasing awareness in the middle east of the need for animal welfare and progress is being made at variable rates in different areas but in all areas, as in most countries worldwide, finding sufficient good homes for the number of dogs is a never ending and difficult problem. Many people in the developed countries of the world probably do not fully appreciate just how rapid growth of cities has been in the oil producing countries of the middle-east so tend to compare situations of dogs in the city with what they are familiar with in long established cities.

In the less developed areas and where dogs seem to be healthy and not causing any problem, there may be an argument for leaving them alone unless an assured good home is known to exist for them, rather than to actively seek them out and take them into a shelter and then be unable to home them.

However in the rapidly growing areas where only a few years ago there was open desert but now there are skyscrapers, industrial sites and continuing building projects as well as surrounding areas affected by these human activities, there are only two options for these dogs. We can sit back and do nothing and allow them to suffer and die or try and help them in whatever way we can. We can only hope to take care of them by taking them into shelters or supplying food and water and health care such as parasite treatment for them in conjunction with trap neuter and release (TNR) programs to prevent further breeding in this environment that is foreign to what they have lived in for the past thousands of years. And yes of course in conjunction with this breeding for sale in pet shops and markets etc. needs to be discouraged and carefully controlled if not banned. TNR on its own has limited use if the dogs are then going to be left to starve and has to aim at desexing a high proportion of free living city dogs if number are eventually to be reduced. Once rescued of course all the dogs deserve to be homed but it is also unfortunately often even more difficult to home desert dogs than those recognised by potential adopters who are drawn to the types of dogs they recognise and are familiar with. Desert dogs are seen as mongrels or mutts without a realisation of what a unique long term history they indeed have and of the unique and special opportunity these ones in shelters offer for expats to take home with them when the time comes to go home. There is no one size fits all solution. Every dog needs to be seen as an individual in its own individual circumstance and assessed accordingly on the spot.


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