Veterinary officials say the program has been a success and efforts will continue to make Bhutan rabies free before 2020

Canine: The livestock department’ six-year long effort to control dog population through vaccination and sterilisation has paid off, veterinary officials say.

Agriculture secretary Tenzin Dhendup said while the estimated number of dogs per hundred people in Thimphu was 10 in 2010; the number dropped to six dogs per hundred people in 2014.

“We don’t see as many stray dogs today in Thimphu city as in the past,” he said. “But the aim of the dog population management programme is not to kill.”

The status of the program was shared at the closing of the second phase of the national dog population management and rabies control programme (NDPM&RCP) in Thimphu on Thursday.

While no nationwide dog population survey has been undertaken, a survey of Thimphu city’s stray dogs in August 2013 showed that there are 5,099 dogs in the city.

The survey revealed that 87 percent of the city’s dogs were stray and the remaining 13 percent were pets.

Officials said the survey, which was carried out with the help of Google maps, found that 76.3 percent of the dogs were ear notched to avoid repeated catching and vaccination.

The country’s dog population control programme aims to vaccinate more than 70 percent of the population and reduce incidence and eliminate rabies in animals and humans to make Bhutan rabies free before 2020.

However, veterinary officials said catching stray dogs has been a big challenge. National project coordinator of the NDPN&RCP, Dr Hiruka Mahat, said dog catching nets were used as the last option.

“Dogs are befriended by giving biscuits and when its confidence is gained, it is caught and vaccinated,” he said. “However, our dogs can’t be lured for biscuits for sterilisation.” he said.

He said the dogs flee the place as soon as they see the veterinary ambulance and nets.

The dog population management project director, Dr Kinzang Dukpa, said that dogs are culturally and socially accepted and that feeding dogs is believed to earn good karma.

He said about 979 animal rabies cases was reported between 1996 and 2014. Since 2006, rabies has caused 16 human deaths.

According to him, the government spends Nu 6M (million) annually on prevention of rabies in humans.

Dr Kinzang Dukpa said Bhutan has long been plagued with an increasing number of stray dogs mainly in the urban areas resulting in increasing incidences of dog bites and rabies cases.

He said that in mid 2000, the government allocated Nu 27M for establishment of dog shelters throughout the country to impound the strays. However, this strategy failed because of the failure to meet the fundamental requirements of managing dogs in confinement.

Although sterilisation was always understood as an effective humane method of dog population control, Dr Kinzang Dukpa said the ad-hoc manner in which they were carried out was unsustainable and unable to achieve the necessary coverage to successfully control and manage the dog population.

Following the success of the earlier dog population management programmes, the agriculture ministry has approved the department of livestock’s proposal to continue the dog population management activities through fund commitment of Nu 10.23M for the next three years.

The collaborating partner of the NDPM&RCP for the last six years, Humane Society International, has committed to support the proposal by committing funds to the tune of USD 92,719 or Nu 5.563M for another three years from July 2015. The proposal is awaiting final approval from the government to be made operational from July 2015.

As of today, 24,006 dogs and 1,806 cats have been sterilised and vaccinated since the dog population management programme began six years ago.

Since the start of the initiative, the project has been conferred two awards for outstanding works in areas of dog population management, animal welfare and animal protection.

By MB Subba