Chhimi Dema

For more than five decades, the country has been working on managing the dog population; tourists have often complained to hotel owners about dogs howling throughout the night.

According to the Ministry of Health’s Annual Health Bulletin, there were 6,430 dog bite cases registered in 2020. In 2019, the recorded case number was 7,083.

Several initiatives have been undertaken since the 1970s to manage the dog population and control rabies. Between 1970 and 1980, dogs were poisoned and shot. In the 1990s, dogs were relocated, and in the 2000s, they were impounded.

Starting in 2009, the government and Humane Society International, an organisation that works to promote human-animal bonds, adopted a catch, neuter, vaccinate, and release programme, which ended in 2020.

The Nationwide Accelerated Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Programme are expected to bring the dog population under control by 2023.

Deputy chief veterinary officer, Karma Wangdi, said that in the past, dog sterilisation campaigns were done on a “small” scale in gewogs and dzongkhags based on the availability of funds. “A sterilisation coverage of 100 percent could never be achieved because of limited manpower and the difficulties of catching free-roaming dogs.”

Karma Wangdi said that the current programme is being pursued on a large scale to achieve a sterilisation coverage of 100 percent among free-roaming dogs in the country within two weeks.

The strategy aims to achieve, among other goals, a reduced number of free-roaming dogs; registration and vaccination of all pet dogs; and control of the number of feral dogs.

The livestock department developed 10 strategies to meet the four objectives next year.  The strategies include catch, neuter, vaccinate, and release (CNVR) protocol for vaccination and sterilisation, as well as establishing a dog shelter for aggressive, diseased, and terminally ill dogs.

The strategy also focuses on digital identification through the installation of a microchip in pet dogs to ensure dog ownership, habitat control through proper waste management, and awareness of the regulation of import and in-country movement of dogs.

As part of the programme, a two-day free-roaming dog population survey was carried out from December 29 to 30 in 19 dzongkhags, which did not include Thimphu.

The enumerators, including 2,500 de-suups and 403 livestock department officials, recorded 72,621 free-roaming dogs; 26,951 were owned but left to roam freely; 44,038 were stray dogs.

The survey in Thimphu was conducted in October and the department recorded 7,292 pet dogs in the dzongkhag. Only 3,831 pet dogs were sterilised; about 3,461 were not sterilised; and 1,286 dogs were free-roaming owned dogs.

A press release from the livestock department stated: “The main objective of the survey was to obtain baseline information on the free-roaming dog population to enable effective planning and successful implementation of the nationwide sterilisation programme.”

Currently, 3,000 de-suups are undergoing on-the-job training on animal welfare, shelter management, dog handling, and catching; and 266 livestock officials are being trained on the catch, neuter, vaccinate and release (CNVR) protocol.

“By the end of January 2022, all the pet dogs in 19 dzongkhags shall be microchipped and registered, and the communities advised on responsible pet ownership and the penalties for non-compliance as per the Livestock Act of Bhutan 2001 and the Livestock Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017,” the press release stated.

The nationwide sterilisation and dog rabies vaccination campaign are planned for March of this year.