Pet Abandonment – The Dark Underbelly of Travel

Every year, thousands of animals are abandoned in shelters, on the streets, and along highways, or even euthanized as people leave for summer vacation. Yes, people abandon pets when they don’t fit with travel plans. And we are not talking about a handful of pets or just one country.

Pet abandonment due to travel chart Montecristo Travels Inc

Note that this is what is available online in terms of statistics. It is by no means a way to single out these countries only. The problem is worldwide.

As you can see, we are talking about millions of pets worldwide. It’s an epidemic that, sadly, even with amazing campaigns, grows every year. We are regressing, not progressing.

The statistics for Europe are particularly hard for us to comprehend because, from our personal experience, Europe far outranks other parts of the West for inclusiveness of dogs. In countries such as Italy and France, shops and restaurants welcome four-legged patrons with the same enthusiasm as they do human ones, even indoors.

Closer to home, it’s a bit hit-and-miss as you travel across North America. Accommodations and dog parks are available but you will still struggle to truly travel with your pet. There is a reluctance to grant dogs access to places serving food, to museums, or even on hiking trails and beaches. Perhaps because until recently, dogs in North America had to earn their keep; they were not pets or truly socialized unlike their European counterparts.

Pet Abandonment - The Dark Underbelly of Travel - restaurant

Power napping while Dad checks the menu in Naxos, Greece.

But there is a growing trend of dog-lovers embracing dogs as even more than pets for companionship: some dogs are exercise partners, therapists, health care aids, and even surrogate children. The pet industry is growing with the trend and it’s creeping into tourism. Today, you can find pet-friendly accommodations, doggy daycare, and pet walking services, not to mention insurance, numerous organized dog activities, specialized care, pet fairs, and more.

Yet, even if we are more inclusive, there is still a lot of work to be done. Canada, for example, only recently started changing laws to grant dogs and other pets the status of “sentient beings” rather than “property,” no different than a chair. With that change comes a different way to prosecute abuse.

But we are in no position to cast the first stone at the rest of the globe. The statistics speak volumes. We can’t lecture, but we can lead by example.

It’s challenging to advocate for including a pet in your vacation plans when there are stigmas and obstacles that may force you to change your plans: things like quarantines, fees, excessive paperwork, and bylaws. Murky waters indeed.

Surprisingly though, those are not the topics we’ve had to be most familiar with. There are government agencies that can help, not to mention bloggers like ourselves.  If you are going to be an ambassador for travelling with a dog, a voice against pet abandonment – the dark underbelly of travel – and thus be an advocate, these are the top five things you should be prepared to discuss.

Pet Abandonment - The Dark Underbelly of Travel no dog on beach sign with dog

WAY too much of this in the USA (New Jersey Shore) just sayin….

1) Pets versus Livestock

Like many countries, China sees dogs as livestock. But before you sound the alarm, remember the next time you eat a steak that in India, cows are sacred. It’s a matter of perspective.  Dog meat, known as gou rou, is served in more than 120 restaurants in Beijing alone. In China, having a dog as a pet has only recently become fashionable and only among the upper and middle classes where the influences of globalization are more likely to be felt.

Sadly, China is also home to one of the most horrific festivals, the Yulin Dog Meat festival. It is so awful that we can’t even bring ourselves to give you a link to information about it. This festival and its associated poor treatment of dogs is one reason why we have not travelled to China. Just as some will boycott places for poor human rights policies, the same can be done for animal rights issues.

Interestingly, China honours the dog as one of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac, and the second day of the Chinese new year is considered to be the birthday of all dogs. On that day, dogs receive extra food and kindness. But dogs, just like the ox, rabbit, pig and chicken are still seen as livestock. In China, the Panda is far more revered than the dog.

2) Festivals and Events

Tihar, the five-day Hindu festival of lights in Nepal, pays tribute to the dog on the second day of the festival. Legend holds that dogs guard the door to heaven and are the companion of the god of death. To honour the dog, festival-goers place garlands around the necks of all dogs and paint a large tika (red mark) on their foreheads. Dogs receive a special meal and prayers so that they may protect the homes of those on earth just as they guard the gates of heaven.

Vets Without Borders has gone in after the festival to use this time for a yearly health check, spay and neuter exercise, helping to prevent the festival from being a last meal for many. This kind of work is what makes this organization the one we partnered with. A portion of the profits made from our books is donated to Vets Without Borders. The World Animal Protection Canada has done some amazing work in Nepal as well, providing much needed assistance after the mud slides.

Whenever we travel to a country, if we find out there is an event that is taking place in a town on our route, we will do our best to attend. Like the Pawty we went to in Florence, Italy, which raised funds for abandoned pets looking for a new home.

Pet Abandonment - The Dark Underbelly of Travel - fundraiser in Florence

Given this in the streets of Florence, Italy! A dog party fundraiser? Yep we will go!

3) Safety First

In many parts of the world, street dogs have become a true problem. It is important to remember that at some time, the “founding” dog once lived with people but was abandoned or accidentally released. Humans caused the issue. These dogs then fend for themselves. As natural scavengers, these animals tend to live off scraps and garbage. Many are free-roaming pets to a population of slum and street-dwellers.

Sadly, although all warm-blooded animals can get and transmit rabies, dogs are one of the most common carriers. India, for example, has the highest number of human rabies deaths in the world with an estimated 35,000 per annum. So it is no surprise that for those who live with this threat on a daily basis, dogs are to be feared. Until such time as spaying and neutering stabilize the dog population, vaccinations get disease transmission under control, and education has been provided, a healthy fear of dogs may mean survival.

I have seen enormous wild dog packs near Miami in the United States, so this issue is a global one. It’s something you need to know how to manage if travelling with your own dog.

4) Impeded by Religion

Places of worship are usually off limits to dogs. Italy has proved to be the most lenient so far, with those who worked the sites we visited being in cahoots, allowing me to enter discreetly in my bag.

And there was that one time in Greece when an Orthodox priest allowed me OFF-LEASH into the church. That was an amazing moment that was followed by a lovely chat with the man about dogs being one of god’s best creatures. They are two exceptions in six years.

Pet Abandonment - The Dark Underbelly of Travel - Church

off leash in a Greek Orthodox Church WITH permission. Good day that!

And although no statements against dogs are found in the Quran, prohibitions abound in the various collections of traditions (hadith). These traditions are a primary foundation of Islamic theology and are the basis of many Islamic laws. Muslims generally consider dogs to be ritually unclean, but interestingly enough, Islamic rulings state that dogs are to be treated kindly or else freed.

This dichotomy is seen in many Islamic practices. For example, in Sunni tradition, it is said that the prophet Muhammad didn’t like dogs. Yet, the historian William Montgomery Watt states that “Muhammad’s kindness to animals was remarkable for the social context of his upbringing.” Watt cites an instance of Muhammed posting sentries to ensure that a female dog with newborn puppies was not disturbed by the army traveling to Mecca in the year 630. In some traditions, the company of dogs voids a portion of a Muslim’s good deeds. Yet, outside the ritual discourse, dogs are often portrayed in literature as a symbol of highly esteemed virtues such as self-sacrifice and loyalty.

Things are slowly changing and the practices in the West are having an influence. Some travelling friends have seen Qataris with large German Shepherds as pets.  In addition, Muslims living outside of the Arab nations are breaking away from the traditional belief about dogs. This site written by a Muslim veterinarian provides an excellent overview on dogs and Islam.

Muslims do like dogs in the west

Mom’s BFF is Muslim. As you can see … no issues here.

5) Laws and Bylaws

When a location peaks our curiosity, the first thing we do is check to see if there is still a quarantine. If there is, we drop the idea of visiting that location right away. It’s a little frustrating since rabies does have a proven and effective vaccine.  Plus, titer tests can prove that the vaccine is in the blood.  Many of the quarantine laws are outdated, having been put in place in the 1800s or earlier. But the world is a big place, so the quarantine problem has yet to annoy us too much. If dogs are not welcome, we simply don’t go.

Then we check to see what vaccines other than rabies may be needed and what paperwork we’ll need to tackle. Then we look to see if an airline that does carry pets in cabin goes where we want to travel, and finally, we book a pet-friendly apartment.

Don’t be surprised if you get asked about the hoops you had to jump through—not just by those back home but, interestingly, also by the locals, who may be surprised it was possible at all.

Pet Abandonment - The Dark Underbelly of Travel - cigar rolling and dog

Hanging out in Naples, Florida with a cigar roller who had loads of questions for me!

Is one culture’s treatment of the dog right and another’s wrong? One could debate the issue at length. One could argue that adopting the philosophy of a dog as a family member has pushed things too far, creating a population of anxiety-driven, “armpit piranhas,” and aggressive little “fur gods.”

But what is clear, and must become standard, is a cross-cultural agreement that dogs, as well as all animals, whatever their end purpose, deserve to be treated with respect and compassion while under our care. To this end, I want to take a moment to applaud organizations such as World Animal Protection Canadathe Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, Vets Beyond Borders and many local animal shelters around the world. These organizations work tirelessly to educate and share these concepts of compassion toward all animals.

Let us all be leaders and a part of that progress. Is it not a pet-friendly world? Become an ambassador, walk the talk, push for changes big and small. Let us be the change.

(Note: This is a re-worked and updated post originally drafted in 2011) 

50 Comments on “Pet Abandonment – The Dark Underbelly of Travel

    • Thanks Susan!! The idea here is to inform not to point fingers. It is so easy to stand back and think “we” are in the right … but there is SO much at play! When you see abuse in countries that equally treat pets as little royalty … you have to wonder. Just today – we heard of a puppy mill getting busted – over 500 poor souls …. a post for another day perhaps.

  1. Dear Monte, what a great post! very thoughtfully laid out. I really like your research and seeing how countries can be so different. and your conclusion is the perfect one for this post.

    On a personal note, as your favorite auntie, i must comment on how your writing skills are improving Monte! 🙂

    • Thanks Auntie N.!! I will try to continue to deliver … sometimes one is just a little more … inspired. I did not want to preach … just show that there are different perspectives. Glad you liked it! I think it is my best one.

  2. Montecristo! What a great article. Sadly, I don’t think animals will become better treated until humans learn to treat each other better. I, personally, cannot comprehend how anyone could mistreat or neglect an animal, but then I was fortunate enough to be raised in a country where living conditions are favorable to humans. I have the luxury of not having to fight for my own life so I’m able to focus on the lives of others. I hope that one day the world becomes a better place for humans and animals…but it will be a long, hard climb, I think.

    • I agree! Yet – I am surprised how in even countries where – for the most part the ability to “know better” is present … we still see such huge differences in perspective. The 500 dogs saved from a Puppy Mill just last week near Montreal for example – right here … in our backyard. The person that owned the Mill saw in all her honest truth absolutely nothing wrong with what she was doing. There is a man across the street that over breeds his poor pit-bull … and when you talk to him his reaction is “Just a freaking dog get a life!”

      I understand not having time to think about animal rights – when bullets, hunger and other horrors are your reality every single day. But here in Canada? In the US? in most of Europe? *shrug* that I find a lot harder to comprehend. I think that is what Gandhi meant in his quote “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” … our societies level of advancement is judged by how we treat animals because only when all else is in place do humans make time for animals.

      • Absolutely. I wasn’t saying that North America and Europe did not do their fair share of animal abuse. We are just more aware and it happens less often but not less often enough. We actually have laws protecting animals which many countries do not. However, this distinction seems moot for those animals living in diplorable and horrifying conditions anywhere.

  3. Thank you! You’re my new favorite blogger and fellow pet traveler! This was a truly thoughtful and informative article. Im grateful to live in a country that respects and recognizes the the value and contributions of animals. There’s still a lot of work to be done to educate those who neglect and abuse due to pure ignorance. I pray Have Pet Will Travel can and will make a difference. Keep up the great work Monte!!

  4. My acupuncturist, who was born in China, was shocked to hear that I took Chester and Gretel to doggy daycare. He said when he grew up in China the only dogs he saw were German Sheppard Police Dogs.

    Even here in the US, the debate is hot over dogs being treated like children. Just pull up articles about people being able to (or wanting to) dine at restaurants with their dog and you will see all kinds of strong opinions being tossed in the ring.

    Our dogs ARE our children. We don’t plan on having any human kids.

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  6. It’s very sad, but as we all know, cultures are very different across the world. Some of us are more advanced then others, and some of us have different values then others. We can only hope that one day animals at least have respect all around the world.

    • agreed. But I also think many places that are ahead are note worthy in that they lead by example. Returning to Canada after being in Europe is often a HUGE exercise in frustration in how limited access is to dogs. So it does go both ways…

  7. I consider myself lucky to live in the west and to have had the constant companionship of animals. I hope one day, all will learn the value of such relationships with dogs. This is a very interesting post.

    • thank you. When we travel we often get to see first hand the differences. Sometimes it is the other way around – where for example dogs have more access in parts of Europe tansy in Canada … so it is an interesting thing to observe.

  8. Monte, if you don’t mind me sharing a link here, one of the most popular posts on Boomeresque is “How to Travel Without Your Dog”.
    Of course, we would never abandon Dino to travel, but there are workable solutions that can work well. A lot of our travel is wrapped around Mr. Excitement’s work travel, so we can’t choose where we go based on dog friendliness.

    • Absolutely. This link is relevant and in fact we plan to write a post on that very topic as well. There are so many options. From pet hotels, kennels, friends and family, “day care” that offer overnight stays, in house pet sitting… perhaps I’ll get a quote from you on leaving your pet with a friend.

  9. It was very informative, thank you. When I have to leave and my dogs wait for my return at home, it’s always stressful, for me and for them.

  10. Wow, I had no idea about these pet abandonment statistics, that is horrible. I understand that more places should be pet friendly and traveling with pets should be easier, but still, that’s no excuse to abandon your pet. People need to commit to having pets, meaning if you want to travel, then work around the obstacles like you do, or like we do, we just don’t travel unless someone can take care of our pets at our home.

    • And there are SO many options from dog hotels, kennels, Spa getaways, family or friends, live in care…. options! In Korea a lot of vets are now offering boarding.

  11. I’ve heard about the problem of abandonment for vacation in countries like France, but wasn’t aware of how common the problem was. How do the numbers compare to 10 or 20 years ago? Not that it is ever right, but I would hope the numbers are going down and more people are thinking of their pets like family.

    • Sadly the numbers are about … status quo … it really is disheartening. And even with huge campaigns it seems like not much is working. Look at the Italy stats… even huge fines and jail hasn’t dropped the #’s. *sigh*

  12. Great re-write. It sounds really professional, definitely an expert piece. It’s great for bringing awareness. You should consider asking for people to republish it in other magazines as a guest article. Can one do that?

  13. A very informative article. I was not aware of some of these beliefs in other countries/cultures. So true that ultimately respect of dogs and appreciation of their value is key.

  14. These numbers are the sad, sad truth :(, there should be a law that states that if people abandon their dog, they should never be able to own one ever again! I hope the world gets A LOT more pet-friendly, because as for now, it’s kinda sad!! Thank you for this amazing article!!

    • I agree. If fines and the threat of jail (like in Italy) isn’t enough then the only logical step is to ban people from owning pets. This is likely the most serious article I have written. More journalistic than “blogger” in vibe. The research and fact checking etc. It was hard to write but needed to be written.

  15. I didn’t realize that pet abandonment for vacations was so high and so widespread. It is mind blowing to think that people would just give a pet up to go on vacation. I guess after vacation, people just get new pets?

    I certainly can understand people being fearful of dogs in a part of the world where rabies is rampant. Vets Without Borders sounds like an amazing organization!

    • I wrote this post because I knew most people had no idea. It’s a little talked about issue especially here in North America. France and Italy have huge ad campaigns every year and yet… *sigh*

      Indeed the work VWB does is amazing. And I admire them because it must always feel like a drop in the bucket. But they keep at it. All over the world bringing a little light and hope with knowledge where they go.

  16. Great, well-researched post, Sonja! Really heartbreaking and surprising statistics in places I didn’t expect and good information as to what to look out for. Thank you!

    • My pleasure. As difficult as it was to write it was important to do so I think. Can’t be a voice for travelling with a dog and not acknowledge the underbelly.

  17. I live in the US AND have been involved in dog rescue for many years, and I never even realized about the so-called post summer pet abandonment. Wow… and the numbers are absurd. You leave behind beach balls and frisbess, not pets. Thanks for putting together this post!

    • It is hard to swallow. As Canadians I can’t stand that – for example – Quebec as a province is North Americas “best place to live if you are an animal abuser” … that is NOT a stat one would want! And the laws changing recently are going to make a difference but it’s too slow coming for the animals if you ask me.

    • I found the US statistic so odd I had to re-double triple check. Then I saw that a lot of it is cottage country or sea shore places. And I thought … this … is horrible.

  18. Such an informative post! I genuinely learned so much and it opened my eyes even wider to the problematic of how we culturally mistreat dogs. In Slovenia, we still have such a long way to go. While the mentality is slowly changing, the improper laws are still in place. Our nation’s leaders fail to recognize dogs as sentient beings, so legally they’re still treated as a property. (Which means people who hurt them normally don’t get punished). It does hurt me when I realize that so many dogs around the world are not safe, but at the very least we are now talking about it and raising awareness!

    • Yes! and we are talking about it cross borders! Internationally we are talking about it. For example we can turn to Holland and see how they managed to completely eradicate pet abandonment as we know it. Why are their shelters practically empty? And learn from them. Break down those borders and go see what has and has not worked. No need for trial and error.

  19. Interesting post. I knew that many European take long summer vacations. I had never considered the impact that this might have on pets or the rate of pet abandonment.

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  26. A South African PR girl shows me around its most coveted rooms, explaining that this is “the greatest luxury offered in the world”. We stroll past shops selling ? diamond rings around a hotel themed on the lost and sunken continent of, yes, Atlantis. There are huge water tanks filled with sharks, which poke around mock-abandoned castles and dumped submarines. There are more than 1,500 rooms here, each with a sea view. The Neptune suite has three floors, and – I gasp as I see it – it looks out directly on to the vast shark tank. You lie on the bed, and the sharks stare in at you. In Dubai, you can sleep with the fishes, and survive.

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