Jigmi Wangdi

A native of Trashiyangtse, Nima Wangdi has been worried about the drastic increase in the population of stray dogs in his town and the nearby areas in recent years. He feared the situation would get out of hand and Yangtse town would become like any other noisy and unsafe town in the country.

For decades the country has been struggling to control the dog population and despite numerous nationwide sterilisation campaigns and spending millions, the problem persisted. It became a menace for both the residents and visitors.

However, such concerns are taken care of now. The dzongkhag has recently achieved 100 percent sterilisation of free-roaming unowned dogs.

National Accelerated Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Programme (NADPM & RCP), the initiative under the de-suung programme to control the dog population, in a record time of nine months last year accomplished the task.

Trashiyangtse submitted the declaration on November 24 last year and confirmed on December 25 that the dzongkhag had achieved 100 percent sterilisation of free-roaming unowned dogs.

At the forefront of the campaign were De-suup Tenzin and a team of nine nyamros helped by experts from the agriculture ministry’s livestock department.

They are responsible for the eight gewogs of Trashiyangtse.

“It does get hard sometimes,” he said, “But inspired by His Majesty’s vision and a strong team along with hard work, it has been possible.”

De-suup Tenzin says that the task of catching dogs needs a huge amount of patience.

“It takes four to five days sometimes to catch a single dog. Sometimes we have to stay along the route which the dog takes and sometimes we have to sit up on a tree for hours before the dog shows up,” he added. “Some of these dogs are even smarter than us!”

Oftentimes, the dogs get injured in the process. This is why tranquiliser guns are used to sedate the dogs before capture.

“Sometimes even with the dart guns, it is difficult. After the dogs have been shot with the dart, they run for almost 100 metres away from us and we have to chase them on foot. Although it is physically straining, the dogs also keep us fit,” De-suup Tenzin said jokingly.

His team caught and neutered 1,141 stray dogs so far. There are teams of de-suups in other dzongkhags as well.

De-suup Chimi is the focal of the campaign in Paro. It hasn’t been an easy task for his team either.

“When we first began the programme, it was rather easy because we would use biscuits to lure the dogs and they wouldn’t resist aggressively. But later on, the dogs somehow recognised the orange uniform and would run away as soon as they saw us,” De-suup Chimi said with amusement.

“Most of my team members have been bit on their hands and legs a number of times. But we were prepared for this and everyone was already vaccinated,” De-suup Chimi said.

It was after the incidents of dog bites that his team started using dart guns as a means to catch the dogs. “Using dart guns isn’t as easy as people may think. After being shot, the dogs run away from us and sometimes we have a difficult time finding the dog.”

De-suups use various methods to catch the dogs such as baiting and net catching, hand-catching, bait and cage-trapping and the most effective method, sedation using tranquilliser darts.

Besides, Trashiyangtse, Haa and Lhuentse have also declared 100 percent sterilisation of free-roaming unowned dogs in December 2022 and January 2023 respectively.

Tsirang, Trongsa, and Punakha submitted their achievement declaration in January. Currently, independent teams are assessing the confirmation of their declarations.

A livestock official said that the declaration supports the country’s aim to reduce the number of unowned free-roaming dogs and rabies which is aligned with the World Health Organisation’s global goal of zero human dog-mediated rabies-deaths by 2030.

The NADPM programme was launched on March 30, 2022. As of February 2, a total of 60,174 dogs including both owned and unowned were neutered.

The NADPM programme became the first to see an activity patch become part of the orange uniform during deployment. The activity patches have become a quick way of identifying deployment areas of de-suups.

A total of 7,956 de-suups have been involved with the program.

Medium-term intervention to reduce overcrowding in parts of urban areas by constructing a facility at Nakulu in Thimphu and relocating free-roaming unowned dogs to the shelter is another activity under the programme. 352 dogs have been relocated to Nakulu so far.

De-suups work in collaboration with other agencies like the Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (RSPCA) and Jangsa Animal Saving Trust.

The collaboration ensures that pregnant dogs, puppies, and sick and weak dogs are cared for before regaining full health. They are then moved to shelters or adopted in some cases.

As de-suung turns 12 today, the members of the volunteer corps dedicate their accomplishments and service to the Tsawa-Sum.