For the national council candidates in Thimphu, dogs, both pet and stray were one of the main challenges they encountered during their campaigning.
What the candidates experienced during their brief time on the streets of Thimphu highlights the plight of the thousands of residents who endure the stray dog menace in the capital everyday.
The national referral hospital sees about a dozen cases of dog bites a day, up from the average eight cases reported last year. Victims include children as young as a year old to those as old as 90 years old. With about 5,000 dogs roaming the city, the dogs have not spared any age group or occupational groups. Children, housewives, tourists, monks, construction workers, students, teachers, nurses, drivers, farmers, business community and members of the armed forces have all reported being bitten by a stray dog at least once so far this year.
Until May 22 this year, the national referral hospital alone saw 1,894 cases. The highest was reported among students. The hospital saw 588 dog bite cases among students, followed by 213 employees of the private sector and 121 housewives. About 10 tourists and 22 teachers also received treatment for dog bites. At a national level, the number of dog bite cases was almost 8,000 in 2016, an increase from 5,353 in 2012 according to the annual health bulletin, 2017.
But despite the increasing complaints on the stray dog menace and the growing public health risk it poses, little appears to be done to address the problem. The thromde says stray dogs are not its responsibility. The national centre for animal health says its responsibility ends with steralisation programmes.
With no particular agency designated to tackle the problem associated with stray dogs specifically, the problem persists. While the issue needs to be collectively addressed, the municipality has to be responsible and take the lead to ensure that its residents are safe. It has to put in place measures that will make students and pedestrians feel safe to walk without the fear of prowling strays. It has become a norm for those who go for morning and evening walks to carry a stick along, not because they need the aid of the cane to walk but because they need to ward off the strays.
A closer look at the victims of dog bite cases reported this year show that 486 were in their 20s; 279 in 30s; 132 in 40s, 88 in 50s, 22 in 70s and nine in their 80s. With the demography reflecting the city’s population, it is wrong for the thromde to brush off its responsibility to make the city safe. It is worse when the municipality is not even able to perform its mandate of providing safe drinking water and pliable roads to its residents. What then is the responsibility of the thromde?
While several studies have been done on the stray dog issue, it is important for authorities concerned to gather comprehensive data on dog bite cases. Not addressing the issue is not anymore an option.