Dogs bit at least eight people everyday in Thimphu over the last six months, Thimphu referral hospital records show.
Until June this year, the hospital recorded 1,484 dog bite cases from both pet and strays. The cases were reported across all age groups with the highest, 627, cases among those between 26 to 60 years.
The youngest victim of a dog bite was a year old female and male while the oldest was an 89-year-old female. A hospital official said that one in 20 patients report being bitten by pets while others are strays. Records show that about 58 percent of those bitten were male.
As of September 2016, Thimphu thromde is estimated to have about 4,800 stray or free roaming dogs. Project director with the National Dog Population Management (NDPM) and Rabies Control Project (RCP), Kinzang Dukpa (PhD), said, that following an increasing number of complaints from the public, the vaccination and sterilisation programmes would now be conducted twice a year in big cities.
Thimphu completed its first round of vaccination and sterilisation for this year in April and May, which officials claim covered up to 74 percent of the area’s dog population. The programme sterilised and vaccinated 639 dogs, out of which 537 were free roaming dogs.
According to the annual NDPM and RCP report, 2016, sterilisation and vaccination coverage in Thimphu, increased from 46 percent in June 2009 to 68 percent in September 2016.
A follow up vaccination and sterilization programme is on-going at the National Animal Hospital, Chubachu in response to the complaints of dog bites from the public. The programme started on June 28 and will last until the end of this month.
Thimphu thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said, the thromde spends about Nu 200,000 to Nu 300,000 annually on rabies control measures. He said the thromde provides assistance in the form of coordination, funding, support, transportation and scheduling.
The World Health Organisation and World Animal Protection recommends at least 70 percent of stray dog population be sterilised to have a stable dog population.
However, the annual NDPM and RCP report, 2016 states that the results of sterilisation and vaccination programmes will not be immediate like eradication programmes. “This means that, dogs that are sterilised will live out their life spans but they will not breed anymore.”
To address the rising dog population in the country, NDPM and RCP was formed as a joint project between the government and Humane Society International (HSI), in 2009.
Thimphu has the highest dog population followed by Paro, Samtse and Chukha.
The report states that a total of 60,993 dogs were sterilised and vaccinated across the country by the end of second phase including the pilot project carried out from February to June 2009, covering 2,846 dogs.
The first phase between September 2009 and June 2012 covered the sterilisation and vaccination of 34,141 dogs. The second phase from July 2012 to July 2015 covered 24,006 dogs. Currently NDPM and RCP, is in its third phase, which is from 2015 to June 2018.
A total of 8,183 surgeries and vaccinations were carried out from January to December 2016. The NDPM and RCP report states that as of 2016, around 80 percent of the southern dzongkhags including bordering towns of India have been covered.
Kinzang Dukpa (PhD) said rabies is prevalent in dzongkhags bordering India such as Chukha, Samtse, Sarpang, Dagana, Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar. He said dog population has stabilised and to maintain this, vaccination and sterilisation is being done twice a year.
“In big towns where dog population is high, the programme will be carried out twice. In smaller places, it will be done once a year with the help of the dzongkhags and regional livestock department,” he said.
Kinzang Dukpa (PhD) said the NDPM and RCP are also trying to start a community based dog adoption programme. “We will be going around and raising awareness to adopt dogs within the areas so that the community can also take care of the dogs besides feeding them.”
He said the community has to take ownership and inform, if a dog is sick or wounded so that proper care and support can be provided. For this, NDPM and RCP will work closely with the local animal welfare organisations such as Jangsa Animal Saving Trust, Royal Society for Protection and Care of Animals, and other registered NGOs.
He said, the major challenges NDPM and RCP face in maintaining a stabilised dog population are irresponsible pet ownership, habitat control, poor support in catching dogs and fund constraints.
“Pet owners let loose their dogs, which mix with the free roaming dogs and breed, increasing the dog population,” he said. “Unless the pet owners bring their dogs for vaccination and sterilisation, it is difficult for NDPM and RCP to go and catch the pet dogs.”
He said that if the habitat of dogs were controlled, the population would be controlled. “Dogs survive and proliferate because of poor garbage management. People should dispose their food wastes properly.”
Yangchen Lhamo who was bitten by a dog more than a month ago near the Centenary Farmers Market, said people should not provide stray dogs with food. “People provide food to stray dogs and the strays being territorial bite people who come there,” she said.
Kinzang Dukpa also said that NDPM and RCP is unable to sterilise and vaccinate 100 percent of the dogs due to less cooperation from the public, especially in catching dogs. “Catching dogs is not easy because dogs become familiar with the catchers and run away.”
Another challenge he said was the need for continued support for fund and manpower to ensure continuity of dog population management. “If the project is stopped, dog population will increase again,” he said.