Victim of a pack of stray dogs, which tore him to pieces: according to a first reconstruction supplied by the carabinieri, Vito Guastella, 50, was surrounded and attacked, while he was working on the trailer of his own truck, in the yard of the company where he worked, to Biscottino, in the province of Livorno.
It is a news story of these days (February 28, 2012), but it is not new.
"The phenomenon of stray dogs", explains Giorgio Morelli, first head of the command of Frosinone of the State Forestry Corps, "has become relevant in the last 40 years, that is when, with the abandonment of the mountain, territories have been freed."
Today most of the Apennine agricultural crops are abandoned, and it is in these areas that the strays concentrate, in particular on the central-southern Apennines, areas where game has multiplied. The law, however, prevents the killing of stray dogs, unlike what happened in the 1970s, when about 100, 000 wandering dogs were slaughtered every year.
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The so-called wandering, therefore, multiply and, generation after generation, they always become wilder. Once this was enough: no distinction was made and they were all defined as "strays". Today, instead, we consider them of different types, with different characteristics, classified according to their behavior in nature and in their relationships with man.
In the following pages we see where the main distinctions come from and how it is best to behave in the event of encountering a stray dog or a feral dog.
The feral dogs are those of second or third generation, therefore children or grandchildren of abandoned dogs. They have lost contact with man, from which they no longer have any dependence, neither food nor affection, and they are difficult to observe because they avoid contact.
They are the natural evolution of abandoned dogs . Of these last ones, most of them are destined for death: in the process of "natural selection" generally only those of large size survive, able to hunt and reproduce.
Like wolves, they are nocturnal and form small herds; they behave like wild predators, they feed on the same prey hunted by wolves (in the Gran Sasso Park they are mostly wild boars) and therefore with wolves they can compete. They are not afraid of man, with whom they never came into contact, and can be aggressive.
Dog and wolf belong to the same species (Canis lupus) and can therefore mate and give life to fertile offspring. In this case we speak of hybrid dogs and, from the point of view of wolf conservation, they represent a very serious phenomenon.
Because animals that at first glance look like wolves, due to the shape of the skull, the sharp snout, the almond-shaped eyes, the dark stripes on the front legs, when examined by DNA can reveal genes like dogs.
Although they can scare you for their wolf appearance, they can be as docile as dogs. Or even vice versa: look like a dog but be wild like a wolf.
The urban strays are dogs that are seen in our cities. And living in contexts in which they often come into contact with man, they seek food and sometimes even company; however, they do not have a master or shelter. They live on the fringes of human activities: they eat when someone gives them food or they manage, looking for landfills and bins.
What to do with an abandoned dog?
Shepherd dogs and hunting dogs, lost or abandoned, are those that are best suited to the city's wild life. Usually however, regardless of race, they can survive especially large ones.
Unlike the others, the so-called master dogs have a master and the certainty of finding a shelter and a full bowl every night; they live in the open courtyards of farms or isolated houses and for part of the day they are free to wander in the surrounding territories.
They are the ones that create the most problems for wildlife. Even just for fun, they run after deer, roe deer, wild boar, without worrying about the outcome of the hunt: they know that at home they can still recover the "wasted" energy.
Conversely, a feral dog (or wolf) evaluates when to start a hunt, because if the predation attempt fails it has no reintegration of the dispersed energies.
One group in itself are working dogs, guardians: in a few decades the pastoral world has undergone profound transformations, becoming a marginal activity, and the consequences have also been reflected in the way dogs are managed.
Today's shepherds, often Macedonian and Albanian, abandoned in the mountains, do not even receive food with continuity; dogs too are consequently malnourished and inefficient. In this way we try to make up for the quality with quantity: a flock that could be defended by three good shepherd dogs, maybe even guarded by about fifteen dogs, all of which are unsuitable and hungry and can therefore turn into wild boar or sheep predators of the near stazzo.
They are in fact dangerous animals for hikers on foot, by bicycle or on horseback. They can be aggressive, even more so if they are in a group or if the person they meet shows fear.
Advice on how to best behave in front of an unknown dog.
"If you encounter strays you should not run away, because they are faster, " suggests Giorgio Morelli . "Better to stay calm and … have a walking stick or racquet at hand. It is necessary to show oneself safe, with an aggressive and dominant attitude and to move away slowly, because especially the shepherd dogs have a territory to defend if it is "invaded". If we leave these ideal boundaries, they can nevertheless give up ».
How to fight stray dogs? "The ideal would be to eliminate the phenomenon of abandonment, but it will take time, " says Morelli. In the meantime sterilization campaigns are being carried out, an attempt is being made to spread awareness of what it means to have a dog and to try to promote adoption by kennels, because the existing structures are not sufficient to accommodate all the abandoned.