This is a response to Janine Liolios article: The management of free-roaming dogs in Rhodes, Greece: a multi-stakeholder approach
In the last years, concern for animal welfare has grown, which has led its way into the tourism industry as well (Reynolds and Braithwaite, 2001). Yet, the main focus in the literature has been on the impact of tourism on animals and their ecology (e.g. Christiansen et al., 2010; Ventre and Jett, 2015; Muyambi, 2005; INTOSAI, 2013; Green and Higginbottom, 2001) and not much attention has been paid to the effect animals might have on tourists and the tourism industry in general. Even though in the last few decades social scientists have made an attempt to examine the experiences of tourists encountering animals, most of this literature has focused on wildlife-based tourism (Markwell, 2015). However, in a destination where dogs (are allowed to) roam free, these animals could also interact with tourists.
Kachani and Heath (2014) specify three different types of stray dogs, including free-roaming owned dogs that are not under direct control at all times, free-roaming dogs without owners (including community dogs which are fed by the community but not owned by an individual) and feral dogs (domestic dogs that became wild).
Extensive populations of free-roaming dogs can cause public health issues through bites and transmitting zoonotic diseases like rabies or Echinococcosis (Kachani and Heath, 2014; Feldman et al., 2004; Zinsstag et al., 2009). Besides health threats, dog population concerns vary from nuisance through noise and fouling, livestock predation, fear of aggressive behaviour and a cause of road traffic accidents (ICAM, 2007).
Especially, for countries where tourism is responsible for a significant amount of its gross domestic product, free-roaming dogs can have an indirect impact on its economy (Webster, 2013). Free-roaming dogs could create a perception of an uncaring society or economic hardship (Webster, 2013) and thus could leave tourists with bad impressions (Plumridge and Fielding, 2003). Additionally, concerns such as dog attacks and rabies could have a further negative effect and prevent tourists from visiting or returning to a destination (Webster, 2013).
A study by Mannhart et al. (2007) assessed the situation of free-roaming dogs in Rhodes in 2007. According to their research, a new law concerning stray dogs was introduced by the Greek government in 2003, which was initially proposed by the Greek Ministry of Agriculture. This law made it mandatory for municipalities to address the roaming dog issue according to international guidelines. However, in Rhodes and surrounding islands the law had still not been successfully applied two years later, and hence the expected and desired results had not been achieved. This thesis research makes an attempt to further explore the situation of free-roaming dogs in Rhodes, while simultaneously adding the relation to its tourism industry.
Hence, the aim of this research was to
Improve the understanding of the situation of free-roaming dogs in Rhodes and the roles and attitudes of the different stakeholders in order to identify strategies, embedded in the political, economic and cultural context, to manage free-roaming dogs.
In order to obtain a full understanding, a multi- stakeholder framework has been drawn, exploring the roles and attitudes of locals, tourists, tourism businesses, the government, veterinarians and animal welfare organisations on the island. One of the goals hereby was to create my own stakeholder network
This research has been carried out through an ‘interpretive paradigm’, building on the relativist ontological belief that there is not one single objective reality (Bailey, 2007). In this case, ‘reality’ might differ among the various stakeholder groups, or even within those groups. Because dog management requires a multi-stakeholder approach on different levels, its design fits most with the actor-network theory Rowley describes (1997), thereby putting the focus on the stakeholder environment, rather than seeing stakeholders on an individual level. Both secondary and primary data were used in order to conduct this research. Preparatory to the field research in Rhodes, desk research gave insight into existing data through sources like academic articles, books, previous thesis studies, reviews and (news) websites. Primary research consisted of participant observation, semi-structured interviews and a content analysis of reviews on TripAdvisor. Semantic analysis was used to assign meaning to the content in order to define whether the reviews had a positive or negative connotation regarding free-roaming dogs in Rhodes. For time and efficiency reasons, the locations of the observations were limited to popular tourist areas within the city and island of Rhodes, with the main focus on Rhodes Town. For each dog counted details were reported based on visual assessment and according to expert guidelines. All qualitative data was analysed thematically.
Findings and discussion
Findings showed that the dogs in Rhodes Town can be classified as ‘community dogs’, being well-fed, not aggressive, generally ‘healthy’ and not shy of humans. However, a distinction could be made when it comes to the welfare of the free-roaming dogs outside of this area. Especially in rural areas many dogs suffer from malnutrition, diseases, injuries and/or parasites. Besides threats to their own welfare, free-roaming dogs in Rhodes are associated with safety and health issues for the public, livestock predation and nuisance through noise and fouling. In a tourism context, results showed that tourism businesses and tourists also experience nuisance by means of begging behaviour and dogs barking during the night.
However, my findings illustrate that whether dogs cause a nuisance and how people tend to deal with it highly depends on the affection people have for dogs. When it comes to tourism businesses in Rhodes, they either are annoyed by the presence of free-roaming dogs or they take care of them and even want to help in order to deal with the issue. However, if there is no general policy on how to deal with free-roaming dogs, everybody will ‘improvise’ according to their own perception of animal welfare.
Concerning the role and attitude of tourists, the results of this study were in line with what authors like Fennel (2012) and Shani (2009) already implied, namely that most tourists seem to accept animals, as long as they believe that the animals are adequately taken care of. Online sentiment confirmed that for tourists coming across emaciated and sick dogs it can have a negative impact on their holiday, consequently affecting the destination image as well. However, as Moorhouse et al. (2017) argue, tourists are ‘inadequate assessors of animal welfare’ and moreover, perspectives on animal welfare can differ between countries and cultures. This perspective gap has been supported by incidents when tourists occasionally take the community dogs of Rhodes Town back to their hotel, as they assume it is a stray that needs help. However, tourists also fulfil useful roles by occasionally donating or volunteering at the shelters, or similar to the case in Mexico (Ruiz-Izaguirre and Eilers, 2012) by adopting dogs.
Completely in line with the findings of Mannhart et al. (2007), the most significant origin of the stray dog problem in Rhodes is related to irresponsible dog ownership. Moreover, the findings in this study match the causes that are stated by World Animal Protection (2015), being irresponsible dog ownership, but also deficient legislation and management program, lack of cooperation by the veterinarians and access to resources via deficient waste management and people feeding the dogs. These issues all relate back to lack of money and resources and ignorance from both the government as well as the people living there. The economic crisis especially has been indicated by the respondents as a factor that contributes to the problem of free-roaming dogs in Greece.
Since the arrival of the animal welfare organisations in 2011, the situation in Rhodes has improved as these organisations are responsible for the neutering and re-homing of many animals. However, the findings indicate that there is lack of cooperation and communication between the different organisations and although in theory funding should come from the government and municipality (Dalla Villa et al., 2010) they depend on donations and volunteers in order to ‘survive’. Although the government could not be questioned directly, the results indeed indicate that there is lack of law enforcement and as Mannhart et al. already described in 2007, the municipalities are still not addressing the roaming dog issue according to the international guidelines. Again, the reason can be related back to lack of money and resources due to the economic crisis, but also other priorities as for instance the refugee crisis has taken away the focus of the government from creating a general policy and implementing a dog management program.
It is all a matter of ‘interplay’ and the stakeholder network shows the interrelatedness of all actors involved. Hence, it is the government that should make and enforce the laws, but the dog owners that should obey these rules and vets, schools and even pet shops that should inform dog owners about the actual importance of responsible ownership. Moreover, the actions of tourists also seem to have a direct consequence for actors such as tourism businesses (through feeding) and the animal welfare organisations (by taking the dogs back to their hotel, donating or adopting). On the other hand, the stance of tourism businesses could also have an effect on (the actions of) tourists and therefore tourism businesses should inform their guests about free-roaming dogs and what (not) to do when they encounter a roaming canine. Moreover, there are a lot of opportunities for tourism businesses to help the animal welfare organisations as well. Besides, if vets neuter and treat the dogs this will automatically lead to a decrease of concerns like nuisance, health threats and image damage for the other actors.
The initial step, which the government authority should be responsible for (ICAM, 2007), is to bring together all relevant stakeholders in a working group in order to develop a dog management program.This includes the animal welfare organisations on the island, government services like waste and environment management, veterinary services, universities and schools, local media, and in this case also shepherds and hunters and representatives of the tourism industry. Although municipalities usually implement dog management practices as a reaction to incidents or events like elections, FAO (2014) stresses the importance of establishing a long-term investment and strategic plan. Moreover, consultation between all stakeholders at all levels is essential for the success of a dog management program, specifically the cooperation between the municipality and the animal welfare organisations. Components of a local dog management program were defined as policy and legislation; education; animal control officers; a regional dog register; reproduction control and stimulating adoptions.