In Italy, standards for the management of free-roaming dogs (FRDs) are defined by regional norms, generating a high variability of approaches around the country. Despite efforts carried out by the competent authorities, FRDs are still a reality impacting upon animal health and welfare and public costs. A similar scenario can be found in many other Mediterranean and Balkan counties. Here we present 14 years of data (2000-2013) retrieved from the admission dog registry of a public shelter (PS) responsible for the collection of stray dogs from one Italian province. The aim of this retrospective study was to describe the local FRD population, identifying its source and to evaluate the effectiveness of the actions implemented by the local authorities. In the investigated period, 7,475 dogs were admitted to the PS. Despite the intense sterilisation plan (mean 381.7 sterilisations per year), the overall number of dogs entering PS did not decrease consistently across the years. Results highlighted a lack of responsibility of owners by failing to sterilise and identify their dogs and allowing intact animals to roam free, therefore producing uncontrolled and unwanted litters. The current dog population management strategy, based on both sheltering and capture-neuter-release programmes, is insufficient to tackle the straying phenomenon. Educational and sterilisation programmes should be an integral part of a successfully implemented FRD control plan. Our results provide further insight on free-roaming dog population dynamics and control systems, and may have important implications for many other local contexts across Europe trying to overcome the straying phenomenon.
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