Until March this year, about 388 dog bite cases were reported at Thimphu referral hospital every month averaging about 13 cases a day.  Last year, the hospital recorded an average 346 cases every month.

While the increasing number of cases over the years indicate that the interventions have not been very successful, awareness about risks of dog bites among people have improved. Many reported for treatment even for scratches, according to the records.

Students (312) constituted the largest number of dog bite victims. Eight tourists also suffered dog bites. Victims include children as young as one-year old, senior citizens, housewives, civil servants, private employees, monks, construction workers, teachers, nurses, drivers, farmers and monks, among others.

The hospital saw 582 dog bite cases that involved victims between the ages of 20 and 50.

Of the total 1,165 cases reported until last month, at least 181 were reportedly bitten by pets.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, livestock official estimated that there were about 5,000 stray dogs in Thimphu as of June last year.

Concerned by the increasing stray dog menace and risks it poses on public health, the National Dog Population Management (NDPM) and Rabies Control Project (RCP) now conduct vaccination and sterilisation programmes twice a year in big cities to stabilise the dog population.

The first round of mass dog sterilisation and vaccination in Thimphu Thromde this year began on April 2 and will go on until April 11.

As of yesterday, about 150 dogs (stray and pets) were sterilised and vaccinated.

According to Project coordinator with NDPM and RCP, Dr Hiruka Mahat, lack of support from the public to catch dogs for sterilisation and vaccination, particularly in the urban areas, was a problem.

He added that there were many free-ranging dogs in isolated areas where food and shelter were available, but not veterinary care.

As recommended by the World Health Organisation and World Animal Protection to sterilise at least 70 percent of the total dog population, the rescue team’s target is to cover more than the required coverage by the end of the campaign this year.

Dr Hirukha Mahat said that a total of 95,000 dogs were sterilised and vaccinated across the country during three phases of campaign since 2009. The country lacks a particular agency to tackle the problem associated with stray dogs.

In line with the campaign, the department of livestock is currently in the process of developing a waste management flagship programme that is expected to address the ever-increasing stray dog problem in the country.

Managing waste has the potential to reduce the dog population because stray dogs scavenge on waste, agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor said.

Once the ministry’s programme proposal is ready, it will be submitted to Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC) for the fund. Strategies include policies to control migratory population dogs.

According to foreign minister Dr Tandi Dorji, the flagship programme will also involve some civil society organisations (CSOs) to control dog population and address associated issues. “Currently, we are reviewing the proposals from the CSOs”.

Health Minister Dechen Wangmo: “Looking at the disease patterns from stray dogs, we need to work with agriculture ministry, thromde, Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals and other CSOs to prevent or reduce public health risks that dog poses.”

Dog bite victims can be provided treatment, but it doesn’t solve the problem from the source, she said. “Dog owners should equally take responsibility because people provide shelter and food for puppies but abandon once they grow up.”

The number of dog bite cases in the country was 6,416 in 2017, an increase from 5,573 in 2013, according to annual health bulletin 2018.

Chimi Dema