Over 56,000 strays have been sterilised and vaccinated so far

Canines: Over 56,000 stray dogs have been sterilised and vaccinated against rabies in the past six years in the country.  Another 2,100 cats were also sterilised and vaccinated.

This was done through the catch, neuter, vaccinate and release protocol, as part of the National Dog Population Management programme.  It was the last resort attempt to control dog population in Bhutan after several other initiatives failed in the past.

For this, the department of livestock’s (DoL) National Centre for Animal Health was awarded an “outstanding animal protection award” during the Animal Care Expo 2015 at New Orleans, USA.  It is the second award the department has received.

The first “outstanding animal protection educator award” was awarded to the then director general of the livestock department, and the present secretary of agriculture ministry, Tenzin Dhendup, in May 2012.

Project director of the national dog population management and rabies control project, Dr Kinzang Dukpa, said that a lot of measures were taken to control dog population in the past, but all failed.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, dogs were shot and poisoned as a quick-fix solution to control their number.  When that idea failed, dogs were trans-located from towns to rural areas.  Translocation of dogs had an extremely detrimental effect, with dogs turning wild and preying on livestock and wildlife.

Another failed dog population control method was the “impounding” one, which cost the government Nu 27M (million) for establishing dog shelters throughout the country in mid-2000.  Then the nationwide ad-hoc sterilisation programme was initiated.

After all the programmes failed to control and manage dog population, Humane Society International, an international NGO based in the Unites States, and DoL jointly initiated the national dog population management programme.

Asked how they won the award when stray dogs continue to be a problem, Dr Kinzang Dukpa said they were controlling the dog population in a humane manner and not wiping them out completely. “That’s why we continue to see street dogs roaming around. It’ll take sometime to see the impact.”

Although there is no data to show how the programme has helped control dog population, the director said the current programme was a sustainable method.

“Had we not initiated the programme, dog population could have increased drastically over these six years. We look at animal welfare too,” he said.

Starting next week the National Centre for Animal Health will also conduct a dog population census.  For the third phase (three years) that begins from next month, agriculture ministry has commitment a fund of Nu 10.23M.

Meanwhile, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji handed over the award to DoL director yesterday in a simple hour-long ceremony.  But after the ceremony a two-hour debate ensued between animal welfare society (Jangsa Animal Saving Trust and Tshethar tshogpa) and agriculture ministry officials.

While the animal welfare society stood by their argument on not supporting the government’s decision to start a meat-processing unit at Serbithang, ministry officials said it was important for the country’s economy and sustainability.

Ministry of agriculture and forest secretary, Tenzin Dhendup, said the meat-processing unit was for safe meat consumption of Bhutanese and it was not yet final if a slaughterhouse would be opened.

“We spend millions of rupees in importing meat every year and we have to find an alternative,” he said. “Animal welfare societies should rather come together and find a middle path solution.”

By Nirmala Pokhrel