There are almost twice as many stray dogs in the world as humans in the United States.
That's right, there are as many as 600 million homeless dogs that lack the care they need and the supervision they require.
FC Barcelona forward Ferran Torres has made it his mission to get involved in the ongoing issue, taking many of these furry friends under his wing.
"I think that if it were up to my sister and me, we would take every single dog we saw on the street home," Torres said.
The reason the 22-year-old has so much love for dogs is tattooed just under his left bicep. When Torres was a young boy, his first dog, Rex, passed away, leading him to get the pet's name and the date he received him inked.
"I surprised my sister with the tattoo so she could also have that tattoo as a symbol of our bond, to also be united for that dog that left such an imprint,” Torres said.
Torres' sister, Arantxa, took the symbolism to the next level, getting Rex's face tattooed on her back.
The siblings grew up about 200 miles down the Spanish coast from Barcelona in Foios, but when Torres moved to England in 2020 to play for Manchester City, he had to leave behind his two dogs, Minnie and Lluna.
With the move, Torres, who had been around dogs since he was born, started to really miss his dogs. But luckily, he crossed paths with Nikki Tibbles, the founder of Wild at Heart Foundation.
Since 2015, the foundation has reduced the world’s stray dog population by promoting spaying and neutering efforts and rehoming them whenever possible.
"I would always go on holiday and we would go somewhere and I would spend my entire holidays literally scraping dogs up off the streets and taking them to the vet and, you know, renting a car and driving around places, feeding dogs, all of these things," Tibbles said.
Tibbles and Torres met up at the end of 2021 where they discussed ways the two can collaborate. In one of their meetings, Tibbles brought a dog named Milo.
"We took Milo to meet him [Torres] up in Manchester," Tibbles said. "In an instant, the smile from ear to ear was indescribable."
You may be able to guess what happened next.
On Sept. 17, 2021, Torres posted a picture to Instagram: "Say hi to Milo Torres! #rescuedog.”
Torres became the foundation’s first ever “champion" by raising awareness for the stray dog population worldwide through his social media platforms, boasting over five million followers.
"It's all about raising awareness... so the fact that he has a rescue dog and has chosen a rescue dog... helps enormously," Tibbles said. "It just sows that seed in their mind about adopting rather than sort of going to spend £10,000 on a French bulldog or a Doberman or whatever they might want."
The dangers of stray dogs
If you're wondering why stray dogs roaming the streets can be a big deal, there are many reasons why that also affects humans.
In countries like the United States, the number of stray animals can be very dangerous as they run around on roads and highways, causing deadly collisions.
Additionally, unvaccinated dogs are perfect vessels for disease because they interact with other dogs and humans, of course.
Statistically, the world has about 55,000 cases of the fatal rabies virus in humans every year, according to the World Health Organization.
For the animals, sadly, the average lifespan of a stray dog is 1 to 2 years, compared to 8 to 16 years for a dog in a home.
The benefits of dogs on humans
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Torres said Milo brought him a lot of joy and the two had great times together, especially playing soccer.
The interaction is no surprise, according to Dr. Ericka Friedman, an organizational system and adult health professor at the University of Maryland who has studied animal-human relationships.
"There are a large number of ways that pets can help. And they include making people feel more comfortable in stressful situations, giving people a reason to live. They have to get up and take care of them. They can reduce people's loneliness. They can make people feel more comfortable in all sorts of situations. And of course, dogs are an impetus for exercise."
It doesn't stop there. Dr. Friedman says dogs statistically lower the human heart rate and blood pressure, making you feel less anxious and more comfortable.
"Just by having your pet there, it gives you confidence, it makes you feel safe. And I think that's pretty amazing to me."
How to deal with the stray dog population
One of the ways of dealing with the growing stray dog population is through education and sterilization, according to Tibbles.
According to PETA, just one female dog who has not been spayed can produce up to 67,000 offspring in just six years.
Seems impossible to control the population of so many stray dogs, right?
Well, the Netherlands had an effective strategy in 2019 when announcing they had no unhoused dogs anywhere in the nation via a method called C-N-V-R – Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return. Additionally, they made buying a dog much more expensive than adopting one.
While Torres, unfortunately, can’t keep every single stray dog in his own home, he says he looks to make a difference in ways that he can, speaking with his friends and teammates.
Torres says there's a dog to fit every personality, you just have to look at the different shelters and organizations around you.