Chhimi Dema

Eighty days passed since the Animal Lover Group took Nakulu Dog Shelter at Semtokha, Thimphu under their care.

The shelter is today addressing numerous challenges – shortage of helpers, aggressive dogs, and dwindling funds. A major challenge is the lack of space to house the dogs, leading to the death of the animals.

In the past two months, an unofficial record states that 21 dogs died at the shelter. Some dogs died from canine distemper and many from biting and eating each other at the shelter.

According to Thinley Norbu, a member of the Animal Lover Group, the shelter today has 400 dogs in five enclosures.

“We keep the dogs healthy and ensure no dogs die,” he said.

On January 16 this year, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Department of Livestock and Animal Lover Group to provide technical support and the group to operate and manage the shelter.

Thinley Norbu said that shelter faces challenges of space; about 90 dogs were outside the five enclosures and in the forest or around the shelter.

The shelter has been receiving support from the community. Recently, a group of tourists visited the shelter.

Thinley Norbu said the group was grateful for people’s support. “With the donations that we received, we are constructing a kitchen and soon we want to fence the whole area to allow the dogs to move freely, and eventually turn the shelter into a dog sanctuary.”

A volunteer at the shelter said that the welfare of the dogs is compromised at the shelter. “The aggressive dogs take over the houses in the enclosure and other dogs are left outside. Some dogs have to stay under rain or sun without shade.”

The volunteer added that the shelter violates the ‘five freedoms’ guiding principle for animal welfare.

The internationally recognised ‘five freedoms’ are freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition; freedom from fear and distress; freedom from physical and thermal discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; and freedom to express normal patterns of behaviour.

The five freedoms are as per the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)’s terrestrial animal health code. Bhutan is a member of WOAH.

According to the Bhutan Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines, the shelter must be designed to “minimise the exposure to adverse weather conditions and predators.”

The guidelines state that a person responsible must ensure that animals that are incompatible in size, behaviour, and temperament are not housed together in an enclosure.

The shelter managers are also responsible to ensure that the sleeping areas for the animals are clean and hygienic and the animals are provided dry bedding to prevent thermal or other physical discomforts.

Another volunteer said there is hardly any space for the dogs to roam, and the dogs are kept in the enclosure based on the location they were picked and not according to their sizes.

He added: “Despite the number of deaths at the shelter, no interventions are made. At this rate, many dogs would continue to die.”