The aim of this study was to develop a welfare assessment tool based on objective, reliable and relevant measures to be applied to individual dogs as they underwent a Catch-Neuter-Return (CNR) programme. A modified Delphi method and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) approach was used to develop the composite canine welfare assessment protocol, comprising both animal-based and resource-based measures. This draft welfare assessment protocol was then trialed and refined in existing CNR programmes to identify key control points where individual dog welfare may be moderately or significantly compromised in the CNR process. The results show that animal-based welfare indicators, e.g., pain behaviours, which provide a more direct indication of an animal’s welfare state, require training and skill to recognise, whilst resource-based indicators are simple to measure but act only as indirect measures of welfare. We concluded that whilst CNR projects can potentially improve the health and welfare of free-roaming dogs in the long-term, the risk of short-term welfare harms during the CNR process is high. Thus, it is essential for staff involved in dog population management programmes to assess the welfare state of dogs in CNR and take remedial action to safeguard individual dog welfare.
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