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At least a dozen dog bite cases were reported at the national referral hospital everyday this year.

Until May 22, the hospital saw 1,894 cases of dog bites. February alone saw 500 cases of dog bite.

Last year, about eight dog bite cases were reported everyday at the hospital. On an average about 240 cases of dog bites were recorded every month in 2017.

Most dog bite victims said that the dog population in Thimphu is concerning.

A health official said that numerous cases are reported everyday at the hospital. She said that non-Bhutanese including tourists visit the hospital for dog bite cases.

Reported cases of dog bite are an indicator to monitor the dog population.

While the cases of dog bite have increased in Thimphu, animal health division’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Karma Rinzin, said that the dog population is stable. “We also have to consider the expansion of the city while looking at the dog population. Despite expansion of the city, the dog population is the same as before. But if we did not have interventions, the population would have increased.”

While Thimphu thromde estimates about 4,800 dogs in the city as of September 2016, Dr Karma Rinzin said that today there are about 5,000 free roaming dogs in Thimphu.

Free roaming dogs include owned dogs that remain unsupervised and unconfined, and stray dogs that depend on humans for food and shelter.

While the increase in number of cases would indicate that the interventions aren’t successful, Dr Karma Rinzin said that it should also be taken in consideration that unlike in the past, people are aware of the risks of dog bites and come for treatment even for scratches.

“One reason why the sterilisation didn’t show results in the past could be because the required 70 percent coverage of the dog population wasn’t done,” he said. “Today 70 percent of the dog population is covered.”

The attitude and behaviour of people, and lack of ownership among others are challenges in addressing the issue.

Dr Karma Rinzin said that Bhutanese are tolerant towards dogs and provide food and water. “Because whelping season in the country is in winter, the survival rate of the dogs would be minimum. However, people provide shelter and food for the puppies but abandon the dogs when they grow up.”

While continuing to provide shelter and food to the dogs, Dr Karma Rinzin said that the community should initiative to bring forward dogs for sterilisation and treatment when sick , which would help decrease the dog population.

“Sterilisation is the best solution to this issue and it is a continuous process. The community will know when the whelping and heat seasons are and they can bring the dogs or at least help when officers come for sterilisation. The service is free.  This is done by NGOs in other countries but in Bhutan we are doing it.”

Dr Karma Rinzin said that the emerging feral dog issue is a concern in the country today. Feral dogs are not dependent on people and feed by hunting and attacking domestic and wild animals.

Animal health division is currently working on a draft strategy to manage the dog population in the country.

The strategy highlights change of attitude and behaviour of the people, reinforcing policies and legislation, animal birth control and habitat control.

“People should be accepting of euthanasia which is mercy killing,” he said. “For those dogs suffering from diseases or have severe infections such as broken abdomen, we should accept to end their lives.”

Phurpa Lhamo

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