Besides posing threats to children, the physically challenged, and tourists

Dogs: Every year, the government has been spending millions of Ngultrums on injections for dog-bite victims and on dog population control programmes.

Over the last three and a half years, the government spent close to Nu 3 million on the Anti-Rabies Vaccine (ARV) and Tetanus Diphtheria (TD) vaccine alone. This does not include overhead costs.

ARV is given to a person to prevent infection from rabies through post exposure of bites and scratches from dogs, cats and other animals like rats.  TD prevents occurrence of septic from bites and scratches.

According to records with the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH), 1,820 people were given ARV and TD in 2013 due to bites and scratches while 1,687 people received ARV in 2014 and 2,090 in 2015 respectively. Until, June this year, more than a thousand people got ARV and TD.

A dose of ARV, which contains 0.2ml costs around Nu 94.5 and TD costs Nu 74.8. After the post exposure, a person has to undergo four rounds of ARV injections.

Brother Narendra Suji of JDWNRH said some people had to be given a second round of ARV after they failed to follow a complete course of treatment. A course of ARV  starts from Zero day and then is required on the 3rd, 7th and 28th days. If any one of these days are missed, the entire course has to be started all over again. Unlike ARV, TD is a one-time injection.

Hospital officials said that in recent years, the number of people coming to obtain the ARV has been increasing. For instance, 156 people were recorded for post exposure cases in April this year which rose to 298 in May.  “By looking at the cases I think the dog population must be increasing,” an official said.

The National Dog Survey conducted in May 2015, recorded 73,124 dogs in the country of which 42,903 were estimated to be strays and 30,221 pets.

Dog bite cases recorded in the hospital were mostly from strays. Stray dogs are found everywhere in the country posing risks to people especially children, the physically challenged and tourists.

But there are also some dangerous pet dogs that roam freely and mix with strays. A civil servant said that recently she was attacked by two dogs near an ATM in Motithang, Thimphu. “I didn’t know they were pets until the owner came out to chase the dogs,” she said.

However, the agriculture ministry has been conducting various programmes across the country to control the dog population.

Project Coordinator of the National Dog Population and Rabies Control Project, Dr Hiruka Mahat, said that since the start of this project in 2009, there are less puppies in the streets compared to the past.

He also said that until now, 70,000 dogs have been sterilised and vaccinated against rabies. “There are ear notched dogs in the streets indicating that the dogs have been sterilised and vaccinated,” said Dr Hiruka Mahat.

The sterilisation and vaccination programmes are being carried out under the National Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Project.

The project is mandated to control the dog population through animal birth control, which according to Dr Hiruka Mahat is the most scientific method of managing the dog population.

But lack of proper legislation and educational awareness, and support from the public are drawbacks that is hindering the dog management and population control effort, said Dr Hiruka Mahat. “Responsible pet ownership is another aspect that has to be stressed upon,” he said.

Dog population control programmes are also costing the government heavily. Approximately Nu 650 is spent on every dog for conducting vaccination or spay and neuter.

Sterilising and vaccinating around 70,000 dogs so far has cost around Nu 45 million. This means every year close to Nu 7.5 million is spent on the programme.

The Humane Society International, the USA based Animal Welfare Organisation bore half of the expenses incurred on the programme.

Tenzin Namgyel