The second phase of the national dog population management and rabies control programme has come to an end. According to the official assessment, the effort has paid off.

Statistics show that the number of dogs per hundred people has decreased from 10 in 2010 to six as of last year. Thimphu had 5,099 dogs and 87 percent are stray dogs. About 76 percent were vaccinated or neutered. That is a huge achievement.

We should see a gradual decline in the number of stray dogs as the neutered ones age and die without producing any offspring. A sign of success today is also the sight of healthier dogs.

Controlling the canine population and preventing rabies had also come at a huge cost. The government had spent Nu 27 million just for dog shelters across the country not too long ago. The effort has to pay off.

The stray dog issue dates back more than two decades. We have, in the past, called for more extreme measures to reduce the dog population – to shoot or poison them. It did not work. Catching and pounding backfired as hungry dogs fed on weaker and smaller dogs. Sterilising them was the best solution.

We may be not seeing as many stray dogs today in Thimphu but it is still remains a problem. Packs of dogs chasing vehicles, children and joggers is a common scene even today. The public feels that the dog population is increasing again.

In the heart of the town, along Chang lam, a pack of dogs have made a roundabout their territory. The busy traffic hardly bothers them.

At night, barking and fighting dogs, as it is the season for mating, is still the main cause of disturbance across the city. Those who try to grow vegetables in their backyard are cursing the canine population for trampling and digging out their chilli seedlings.

So when the livestock department’s National Centre for Animal Health was recognised for the programme, there were some eyebrows raised, as they believe that the stray population is still a nuisance and on the rise.

The programme was not to kill dogs and make Thimphu a stray free city. The approach is to sterilise the strays and gradually control the number. We seem to have found the right solution. There is budget allocated and funds committed, the programme should be continued and with vigour.

The barking can still be heard, sharp and loud. The city’s residents will call it a success once the streets are free of strays roaming in packs and barking at every moving object. For this to happen, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it to the livestock department alone. We still have people who hide or chase dogs away when sterilisation teams come to their neigbourhoods.

It would be more compassionate if they can help the dogcatchers as it would prevent more  dogs from being produced and living a life as a stray.