Scrolling through social media, I came across a story delineating the suffering of a dog poisoned to death. Then came another story. And another. And a few more after that. Disgusted and distraught, I tossed away my phone angrily. The loud thump of my phone striking the desk startled my sleeping dog; he looked at me, eagerly awaiting an update. I quietly motioned him to stay down and opened my laptop.
A cursory internet search quickly revealed the rising number of dog attacks, particularly in Sindh. Rabies, a terrifying infectious disease, are transmitted through dog bites. Naturally, this is concerning primarily due to poor health infrastructure, specifically in the country’s rural parts. In response to this threat, the concerned municipal authorities decided to implement a pervasive dog culling program.
Such a poorly-thought-out approach can only be attributed to ineptitude and, perhaps, cruelty. It seems as if the authorities don’t seem to believe in the idea of expertise. We know that dog culling does not work. The population growth of dogs follows a natural cycle. If the population exceeds a certain threshold, higher competition results in fewer animals born in the next generation. On the other hand, if many dogs are culled, the competition decreases, and more animals are born in the subsequent generation. Killing dogs only delays the problem; as the population of dogs rises again.
Unfortunately, rabies is an ever-looming threat. However, killing dogs indiscriminately is not the solution. Pakistan lacks the basic facilities required to test dogs for rabies. If an individual gets bitten by a dog, it is presumed that the dog had rabies. No one actually tests the dog for rabies due to a lack of resources. The only viable strategy to prevent rabies transmission is to launch a pervasive immunization program for dogs. After vaccinating around 70%-85% of the dogs in an area, the population has a better chance of developing herd immunity, resulting in a weakened rabies virus.
Now that we have discussed how killing dogs doesn’t solve the problem, let’s talk about how such an approach is unethical and downright cruel. Dogs are usually killed by feeding rat poison or by simply shooting them. It doesn’t take much imagination on our part to envision the severity of pain these poor little creatures feel in their final moments. The common toxic effects of rat poison include difficulty breathing, vomiting, internal bleeding, kidney failure, and so on. Alternatively, dogs are shot. The lack of professional shooters means dogs are shot more than once, often three to four times before they finally perish.
Another widespread issue is that the members of our society don’t understand how to interact with animals. Oftentimes, the fear of various animals, including dogs, is inculcated from an early age. Children are not taught how to interact with animals, and they grow up to be adults with an eerie insensitivity towards dogs. Unlike humans, dogs don’t exhibit any sense of cruelty. They only attack when they feel threatened, and it is surprisingly easy to startle a dog. Thus, we must understand canine behavior, so unwanted situations do not arise.
To thoroughly deal with this problem, the municipal authorities must change their course. Killing dogs is not the way to stop the transmission of rabies. To eradicate rabies from Pakistan, the focus should be on vaccinating dogs and educating the public. If most dogs are vaccinated for rabies, the likelihood of a susceptible dog acquiring rabies becomes extremely low. Also, it’s necessary to educate the public about basic canine behavior and rabies. People should be aware of how not to threaten dogs unknowingly and the basic go-to protocols in case of a dog bite.
To remedy this situation, The Pet Project is offering free vaccinations for stray dogs in Islamabad. People are also allowed to bring over their pets, but stray dogs are given priority over pets. Perhaps next time when your pet’s vaccination is due, consider vaccinating a stray dog in your street as well.