Home Dogs Why Are There No Stray Dogs in the Netherlands

Why Are There No Stray Dogs in the Netherlands

by Maja Świątnicka

It would be great to imagine the world with no stray animals at all. Does it seem utopian to you? At first sight, it may look a bit utopian, but it isn’t impossible actually. Very often tourists in the Netherlands ask if there are any stray dogs there as they never see stray animals on the streets. The truth is, there are no stray dogs in the Netherlands. In fact, the Netherlands is the first country without stray dogs in the world. How is that possible?

The Netherlands became a country with no stray dogs because of an extensive sterilisation program. Also, the government has introduced laws to protect animal welfare. Currently, the Netherlands claim they have 0 stray dogs and most pets owned by country residents are adopted.

Photo by Catarina Carvalho on Unsplash

The Netherlands is a perfect example of what a country can do to prevent pet abandonment. Their multi-faced approach is really impressive, so I decided to deepen my knowledge in this field. If you are curious about why no stray dogs live there, keep reading. The article will explain it all to you.

Holland With No Street Dogs

The World Health Organisation estimates that there are around 200 million homeless animals in the world. Almost all countries deal with handling them and there’s no real easy solution. Stray animals continue to have babies and the sheer influx of animals is something the world is not prepared to. Luckily, the Netherlands is not contributing to the WHO’s statistics. Thanks to changes in legislation, mainly sterilisation programs, the country has become the first one with no stray dogs at all. The Dutch government has been working hard to achieve that. Hopefully, other countries will follow soon.

Has It Been Always Like That?

Not really. Since the beginning of the 19th century, the number of dog owners has increased drastically. During those years, people considered it as a status symbol to have at least one dog. Owning more than one dog was a symbol of social standing. The elites owned many pedigree dogs as pets or for sporting. These dogs were usually groomed and well fed as they were their master’s status symbols. Poorer families, on the other hand, often kept their dogs on the streets. During this time, there implemented a dog tax in order to regulate the number of stray dogs, but the effect was opposite – people couldn’t afford to keep their dogs or just didn’t want to. In the 19th century, the Netherlands was struggling with a rabies epidemic. One of the consequences was that people started to abandon their pets. They were just afraid that their pets could carry the disease. It was easier to just abandon a pet on a street to check if it’s healthy. Unfortunately, dog abandonment was legal these days. The number of stray pets kept multiplying and suddenly the government realized that something must be done as soon as possible. They were concerned about both – the welfare of homeless pets, as well as the potential health issues they could spread. Thus, they decided to take matters into their own hands, it was high time to crack down. The first Dutch animal protection agency got to work in 1864. 13 years later the first canine shelter opened. In 1962 the government introduced the Animal Protection Act.

How Was the Problem Fixed?

The Netherlands has been working really hard to fix the stray dog problem. In short, revolutionary tactics were implemented. A country-wide sterilisation program of owned animals was implemented so that unnecessary puppies do not appear, which will not find a host and may become homeless. Dogs were brought in for sterilisation, they were also given a medical exam and any vaccinations needed. This definitely was crucial in cutting back on the spread of diseases. The Netherlands has a country-mandated legislation that allows spaying and neutering services to be free for Dutch people.

Photo by Christoph Peich on Unsplash

The country also made sterilisation and castration easily accessible.  Not only are such services free, also it’s possible (on specific days) to take a dog in for a free health-check and necessary vaccinations. After implementing such legislations in 2016, it took a little time to sterilise approximately 70% of female dog population in the Netherlands. This is how the problem of paying for overpopulation of stray pets disappeared. What is worth mentioning, the Dutch official worried not just about costs and potential problems stray dogs could bring and spread. They also worried about the life, health and happiness of the pets themselves.   

Strong Animal Welfare Laws

The second thing, animal welfare laws were cracked down. The Dutch government implemented stronger laws concerning animal welfare in order to improve animal rights and protect their health. It’s a bit similar to the UK’s Animal Welfare Act. In short, any act of neglect or cruelty towards an animal will be punished by 3 years in prison. On top of that, there is a fine of around 16,000 Euro or more. Pet abandonment is illegal. In order for the abovementioned laws to be followed, a special division of police officers was created. Their main goal is to prevent animal cruelty and abandonment. The animal police are responsible for investigating animal neglect and rescuing pets from dangerous situations. At any time anyone sees a stray dog on a street, they should immediately call animal control. They can be sure that the animal will be rescued as soon as possible and then taken care of until it is adopted.

Is Holland Dog-Friendly?

Absolutely! Dutch people are insanely crazy about their pets. They take their puppies with them while cycling (puppies are just put into bike baskets). Almost all the restaurants and cafes are dog-friendly. What is more, pets can ride on public transport (accompanied by their owners, of course) for a reduced price. On top of that, adopting a dog literally pays off. How come? It’s connected with taxes. The government raised taxes on the purchase of bred dogs (and dogs you can purchase in stores). This way, stray dog adoption is strongly encouraged as people think twice before they buy a purebred puppy from a store. A high tax placed on buying a puppy instead of adopting a shelter dog might sound a little controversial, but does it matter? A senior dog at your local shelter needs a good home just as much as a new-born puppy, doesn’t it? Age of dog never dictates the love to give! There are over 200 dog shelters in the Netherlands. Each year, approximately 70,000 dogs and cats are lost and found. Between 20-50% of them are rehomed via the Internet.

Awareness Is Key

Nowhere in the world, I have seen so many campaigns raising awareness of the stray dog situation. In the Netherlands, people often have the opportunity to e.g. care for homeless puppies. It relevantly increases the chances for adoption. What’s best, such campaigns are proven to be successful. During the government campaigns, over a million stray dogs have found homes so far! I am always moved to tears when I see what happens when people are simply made aware of a problem. Penalties, taxes and legislations are important, that’s right. They are needed and effective. But what I also believe in is mentality. In the Netherlands most people think of animals as innocent creatures that can feel. Children are taught that it’s our responsibility to respect animals and take care of them. In the Netherlands this just became the norm.

Some Dog Owners’ Duties

In the Netherlands dogs must be walked on leads. There are of course some areas where you dog can walk unleashed but there are also some places dogs are not allowed. For example, on Dutch beaches dogs are only allowed from the end of September until April and in the summer after 7 p.m. When it comes to cities, most of them have some little fenced dog areas, cleaned by the government. However, dog owners are always obliged to clean up after their dogs. Dog owners should also micro-chip and register their pets.


What Holland has done is nothing but impressive. Stray dogs for them now is part of history. The first stray dog-free country in the world managed not to leave a single abandoned dog in the street. All dogs in Holland have a safe home. To me, a foreigner, the end of stray dogs in the whole country definitely looks like a utopia. So far, every city I have seen in the whole world faces problems with homeless dogs. If you look around your neighbourhood, you will probably notice some stray dogs roaming around (e.g. in the US there are around 70 million strays!). And the Netherlands have minimised the number of strays to 0 during the last 200 years. They have come a long way, but the effect is much more than jaw-dropping. To me, the country is now an exemplary one that other European nations should follow. Way to go, Holland!

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