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Animal Welfare Organisations taking over government’s role in dealing with stray dogs

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lanka’s street dog population keeps sky-rocketing as authorities fail to set clear policies and create systems for the eradication of rabies and mitigating overpopulation through sterilization, experts said.

“The national program for sterilization of dogs from 2008 up to now, continued through contract veterinarians. They would call for tenders and they give it over to a few vets,” Champa Fernando, secretary of the Kandy Association for Community Protection through Animal Welfare (KACPAW) told Economynext.

Fernando claimed that this system of sterilizing was inefficient and was corrupt.

“Sometimes the vets who are contracted to hold sterilization clinics just hold a single or two-day program and disappear without any aftercare and assistance to the community,” she said.

Sterilize; to bring down street dog population, it’s that easy

Most dog-owning families disregard vaccination and sterilization and end up dumping puppies on to the streets.

That is why the overpopulation of stray dogs in Sri Lanka has become an issue.

Animal Welfare Organizations (AWO) have taken over the government’s role in desperation.

Organizations like KACPAW, Justice for Animals etc. conducted Spay and Neuter programs even during the lockdown.

“These programs not only help animals but also the communities who bear the burden that comes with the rising number of stray dogs,” Tashiya Captain, Program Director of Justice for Animals charity organization said.

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“Most of who come to our sterilization/vaccination clinics are from low-income households,” she said.

Some private sector companies have stepped in.

Abans Group, in a CSR initiative, recently funded a Spay-Neuter-Vaccinate program handled by Justice for Animals AWO to treat over 150 dogs and cats.

Justice for Animals have thus far neutered 2,353 animals and vaccinated 2,758 animals for this year.

“Ideally a Spay-Neuter-Vaccine program should be conducted once every three months and sometimes once a month in places with high stray dog numbers,” she said.

“Once the dogs are sterilized and vaccinated, people in that community are more willing to keep them as pets.”

Rabies Elimination

A WHO annual report on Sri Lanka in 2017 mentions that the country looks to eradicate rabies by the year 2020.

“Sri Lanka is moving towards measles elimination and rubella control by 2020. Disease surveillance has been strengthened with the confirmation of laboratory diagnosis of reported cases of measles and rubella. The country is also on track for eliminating rabies as a public health issue by 2020,” the 2017 annual report of the World Health Organisation for Sri Lanka stated.

Fernando said that if carried out conscientiously, rabies could be eradicated within a span of three years.

“They are spending huge amounts of money on an eradicable disease continuously over so many years,” she said.

“How long are we going to do this?”

Sri Lanka has failed to eliminate rabies owing to inconsistent policies and the situation has more or less stagnated to a point where nobody even knows if the program is still carried out, Fernando said.

Rabies vaccination, on the other hand, is more affordable than vaccinations for other viruses canines could come into contact with.

“A dog is more likely to contact other highly contagious diseases like Canine Parvovirus and Distemper than Rabies,” Captain said.

“We would like to give the parvo and distemper vaccines but those vaccines are beyond our budget. We prioritise the rabies vaccine since rabies can be transmitted to humans by a dog bite.”

A brief history

Prior to the No Kill policy enacted in 2006 by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the law permitted street dogs to be rounded up and gassed to combat rabies.

This policy introduced the CNVR (Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release) method which ended the ineffective and inhumane killing of thousands of strays.

Following the policy, Sri Lanka national sterilization and rabies vaccination programs were carried out by the government through either the Department of Animal Health and Production or the Health Ministry.

In 2008 the government initiated allocating funds for country-wide spaying of female dogs only.

“The government vets belong to the Department of Animal Production and Health. And at that time there weren’t any vets who could do this because they were more involved in farm animals. Therefore, they had to be empowered,” Fernando said.

“By 2018, a concept called One Health came up and the three stakeholders involved, the local government, livestock ministry and the health ministry came to an understanding that the national sterilization program and the rabies vaccination program should come under the DAPH” she said.

“It was also decided that the prophylaxis or human-rabies control will be handled by the Health Ministry. Then the DAPH recruited more vets and the program was going well.”

Fernando said that the Public Health Veterinary Unit setup was expanded with main focal points being sterilization and vaccination.

There about 300 offices throughout the country catering to the needs of people in that area.

However, the National Dog Sterilization and Rabies Eradication programs were handed back to the Health Ministry from the DAPH during the 2017/2018 period.

Where it is now

Since the change, the two programs were supposed to be conducted through contractual vets.

Animal lovers and welfare organizations continue to do the government’s job for them in this regard as they have done in earlier years under various administrations.

To mitigate street dog overpopulation, the government relocates or removes dogs from areas which only aggravates the same problem in another area.

“Dogs should not be relocated or removed from their current territories. There are several negative repercussions associated with relocation such as territory fights and lack of food due to unfamiliarity with the area,” Captain added.

“Besides a new set of dogs will move into the vacuum created by the removal of the previous dogs.”

Mass sterilization and vaccination will only work if it is done right and consistent follow-up and aftercare practices.

(Colombo/Aug27/2020)

Reported by Tania Madies