Feral vs. Stray


By definition a feral animal is an animal which has changed from being domesticated to being wild, natural or untamed.

Experts in the area of free-ranging dogs refer to lost and abandoned pets as strays.  These strays have been socialized to humans at some point whereas feral dogs have lived their lives apart from people. 

When the work you do is rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming dogs in need the distinction between stray and feral is an important one.  The bulk of the dogs hart is able to rescue are categorized as strays. 

While the strays that we rescue may be timid or even fearful of humans, with patience, quick thinking on our part and practiced rescue movements, they can be coaxed through a rescue.  These dogs have the capacity to integrate into a domestic setting and become a family member.  With some time and patience they will allow humans into their pack and become pets. 

Veto is a great example of this.  He was a stray who was living on his own in one of our rescue communities.  Veto, although he didn't have his name until post-rescue, would travel frequently by a specific house because the residents would put out food for him and others.  He would interact with the humans but in a limited capacity.  Veto wasn't keen on the idea of being rescued because he was afraid, but our rescuers persevered and coaxed Veto into his new life.  Less than 1 week later, Veto was learning to walk on leash and loving the cuddles from his foster family. 

In contrast to strays, a feral dog is the offspring of domestic dogs that have been abandoned or become strays.  In their development, feral dogs have not had any type of human socialization.  Where strays have interaction, both positive and negative, with humans, feral dogs most commonly live on the edge of a society.  They live where there is a habitat and food sources that can support them, but they live in hiding.  They move about when and where humans do not.  They are silent and quick so as not to bring attention to themselves.  When they are observed, it is generally at a distance and for a short period.   

A feral dog may never be able to enjoy the perks of domestic living.  They may go through their entire lives not knowing a kind touch from a human.  Feral dogs tend to have strong canine social skills and are willing to be part of the canine pack, but often have difficulty being handled through their lives.  Some people consider it more humane to leave feral dogs in an environment where they are comfortable versus raising their stress levels on a continuous basis by trying to make pets out of them.  In terms of hart's rescue history, there is only one dog that we would consider applying the feral definition to…and even that dog wasn't what you would call completely feral.  From the over 900 dogs we have rescued, most are strays or dogs that have been abandoned or born as part of an unwanted litter. 

So what can we do for feral dogs?  The solution comes down to spays and neuters.  If we can reduce the number of feral dogs reproducing in a humane fashion, there will be fewer generations of feral dogs to come.    


Written by hart at 00:00
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