By definition a feral animal is an animal which has changed from
being domesticated to being wild, natural or untamed.
Experts in the area of free-ranging dogs refer to lost and
abandoned pets as strays. These strays have been socialized
to humans at some point whereas feral dogs have lived their lives
apart from people.
When the work you do is rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming
dogs in need the distinction between stray and feral is an
important one. The bulk of the dogs hart is able to rescue
are categorized as strays.
While the strays that we rescue may be timid or even fearful of
humans, with patience, quick thinking on our part and practiced
rescue movements, they can be coaxed through a rescue. These
dogs have the capacity to integrate into a domestic setting and
become a family member. With some time and patience they will
allow humans into their pack and become pets.
Veto is a great example of this. He was a stray who was
living on his own in one of our rescue communities. Veto,
although he didn't have his name until post-rescue, would travel
frequently by a specific house because the residents would put out
food for him and others. He would interact with the humans
but in a limited capacity. Veto wasn't keen on the idea of
being rescued because he was afraid, but our rescuers persevered
and coaxed Veto into his new life. Less than 1 week later,
Veto was learning to walk on leash and loving the cuddles from his
In contrast to strays, a feral dog is the offspring of domestic
dogs that have been abandoned or become strays. In their
development, feral dogs have not had any type of human
socialization. Where strays have interaction, both positive
and negative, with humans, feral dogs most commonly live on the
edge of a society. They live where there is a habitat and
food sources that can support them, but they live in hiding.
They move about when and where humans do not. They are silent
and quick so as not to bring attention to themselves. When
they are observed, it is generally at a distance and for a short
A feral dog may never be able to enjoy the perks of domestic
living. They may go through their entire lives not knowing a
kind touch from a human. Feral dogs tend to have strong
canine social skills and are willing to be part of the canine pack,
but often have difficulty being handled through their lives.
Some people consider it more humane to leave feral dogs in an
environment where they are comfortable versus raising their stress
levels on a continuous basis by trying to make pets out of
them. In terms of hart's rescue history, there is only one
dog that we would consider applying the feral definition to…and
even that dog wasn't what you would call completely feral.
From the over 900 dogs we have rescued, most are strays or dogs
that have been abandoned or born as part of an unwanted
So what can we do for feral dogs? The solution comes down
to spays and neuters. If we can reduce the number of feral
dogs reproducing in a humane fashion, there will be fewer
generations of feral dogs to come.