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Dog population management strategy to reduce rabies cases

Should things work out as planned, the implementation of the new national dog population management strategy will reduce rabies cases in human to zero by 2030.

The last rabies case in human in the country was reported in May 2016. The ultimate goal of the strategy is to not have any dogs on the streets.

The dog population management is a flagship programme in the 12th Plan.

Livestock department’s director general Dr Tashi Samdup said that changing the mindset of the people was crucial to the success of the programme.

“The department together with stakeholders will conduct advocacy programmes at various levels to encourage people to bring in dogs to the clinical camps,” the director general said.

Livestock officials said that if a camp does not cover 20 percent of the dogs in the place, then these dogs would breed and bring the number to the same level the following year.

“That’s why community cooperation is vital for the success of the camps,” a livestock official said.

Dr Heruka Mahat with the programme said the numerous programmes to control the population of the dogs so far have been successful.

“That’s why while the population in Thimphu has doubled, the dog population has remained the same and there is no exponential increase,” he said.

Focusing on high-density areas such as Paro, Thimphu, and Bumthang could easily manage the population, he said.

Livestock officials said that the dzongkhags are equipped with infrastructure and experts to carry out sterilisation camps.

The renewed strategy was developed by the livestock department in consultation with other stakeholders to improve the health and welfare of dogs; reduce the dog population to manageable size and achieve zero human deaths due to dog mediated rabies by 2030.

The revised dog population management strategy mainly focuses on mainstreaming of dog population management programme at the national, and local levels, targeted animal birth control (ABC) of free roaming dogs, encourage adoption of stray dogs by using community-based approaches and human behavioural changes, reinforce public education and awareness on DPM and rabies control, among others.

Dr Heruka Mahat said that the department tried to encourage people to adopt strays but failed.

“The strays have strong immunity and can be very nice looking even better than the pedigree dogs,” he said.

The programme would also conduct regular monitoring and evaluation using the scientific methods such as field population surveys, indicator counts  and surveys to gauge the impact of the programme.

“We can judge the success of the programme by the number of rabies cases in humans, and number of dogs brought to sterilisation camps,” Dr Tashi Samdup said. “The government has committed enough budget for the programme.”

From 2009 onwards, the livestock department, and Humane Society International, USA embarked on a long-term project titled the national dog population management and rabies control project. At the end of the project’s third phase in June 2018, about 92,000 dogs were sterilised and vaccinated against rabies covering all dzongkhags.

The household pet dog survey the department conducted in Thimphu and Paro showed that 21 percent of urban households in the two towns owned pet dogs and 40 percent of rural households own a pet dog. About 60-80 percent of dogs in the country are sterilised and vaccinated.

Tshering Palden

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