Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

After more than a decade of discussing stray dog problems in the country, authorities are still looking for a viable solution.

With uncontrolled stray dog population and increasing dog bite cases, man’s best friend is viewed as a cause of national concern today.

This scenario, however, could change should the new approach adopted during the four-day coordination workshop in Gelephu materialise.

Department of Livestock’s chief veterinary officer, Dr Karma Rinzin, said that the fourth phase of the Dog Population Management (DPM) project, which is currently underway, aims to engage the community in the project through behavioural changes.

Realising the gravity of the problem, the issue has been included under the government’s waste management flagship programme in the 12th Plan.

With support from the Human Support International, the DPM project began in 2009 that involved mass sterilisation programme for dogs to control the unchecked population growth.

Under the programme, DoL has sterilised more than 105,000 dogs so far.

However, participants said that lack of participation from the community and the misplaced compassion of Bhutanese towards the dogs are the major challenges today.

One of the workshop participants said that while residents wanted to raise dogs, they do not take ownership of the animal. “There are many who claim to own dogs but they are not doing anything for the animal except for feeding them from time to time.”

Officials said that as per the rules, a pet animal should not be allowed to wander freely. “People claim ownership of the dogs but they do not have a proper shelter for them and are let loose to wander. This is the main reason why there is unchecked breeding among stray dogs.”

It was also learnt that residents did not cooperate during the mass sterilisation programmes and went out of their way to protect or hide the animals.

Dr Karma Rinzin said that under the new approach, communities and individuals would be facilitated to adopt stray dogs and make them take full ownership of the animal.

In Haa, he said that the Dzongkhag Tshogdu resolved that every household would adopt a dog each. “This has not yet materialised yet and it is a very difficult thing to do,” he said. “We would be going to the dzongkhag and see how feasible it is. We want to support them with some incentives.”

Likewise in Trongsa, Dr Karma Rinzin said that they are exploring means to facilitate communities to adopt the dogs that are residing in their vicinity. “The community will build shelters for the dogs and feed them on time so that the dogs do not leave the area. The whole community will take the responsibility to look after the group of dogs in their own area.”

He said that the community should also make sure that all the dogs are sterilised. “So far only the DoL and the municipal authorities have engaged in addressing this issue. Now, we want the community to take part in it because if they don’t, this problem will never end.”

For this, technological assistance using microchips in the animals and QR scan codes and mobile tracking applications would also be used.

Should this approach work, the rest of the dzongkhags would also start implementing the same strategy.

He added that one of the major challenges remain in catching the dogs in the present approach. “By nature, dogs are very friendly which is why we are training our people to handle them in a more decent way without the use of nets and sticks,” he said. “We have about six professionally trained dogcatchers today.”

Meanwhile, the workshop that ended on January 12 also sensitised the participants on animal health policies, strategies, plans, and projects, to strengthen collaboration with the relevant stakeholders including means to share field and technical experiences.

Participants also said that while the veterinarians are equally involved in preventing an outbreak of disease from animals to human, they do not receive an equal amount of recognition from the government.

One of the participants said that about 75 per cent of the emerging infectious diseases affecting human originates from animals. “We are at the forefront during outbreaks like rabies, bird flues and other animal-borne diseases that affect people. However, recognition and benefits are given only to human health workers.”