Thinley Namgay

Following His Majesty The King’s concerns about stray dogs starving during the lockdown, a mass feeding of the dogs began yesterday.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering citing the Royal concern during a recent press conference said, “Stray dogs will become aggressive without food and might attack people and domestic animals. Bodies of dead dogs would spread diseases.”

Currently, there are over 45,000 stray dogs in the country of which around 15,000 dogs are in Thimphu.

The Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) began a nationwide stray-dog feeding programme beginning yesterday, to ensure that dogs do not starve during the lockdown.

The different RBA wings in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Samtse, Gelephu, Chukha, Haa, Paro, Wangdue Phodrang, and Samdrupjongkhar will be operating in their respective areas to feed the dogs daily.

In Thimphu alone, three teams were deployed to feed over 15,000 stray dogs living between Dechencholing to Ngabiphu.

According to a press release from RBA, the programme was initiated in view of His Majesty’s concern about the dogs during the lockdown. 

“As the streets are empty due to the lockdown, the dogs, which usually depend on scraps from hotels or food left by passers-by, may go hungry and become feral.”

A spokesperson from the RBA said that besides being an act of compassion, the programme to feed stray dogs was deemed appropriate for the Army to take over, as feral dogs would be a security issue if left unattended.

Besides, De-Suups and police on duty across the country have also started mass feeding of dogs since August 13. Pictures of De-Suups and other duty personnel feeding the dogs flooded social media platforms where people expressed their gratitude to His Majesty The King.

De-Suup Tshering Norbu deployed at Dechencholing, Thimphu said, “Otherwise, only pet dogs will receive special care during the lockdown, which is not fair.”

Another De-Suup Namkha Dorji in Chukha said that there are limited numbers of dogs in his vicinity. “De-Suups continue to feed the dogs with the help of shopkeepers who donate food items.”

Civil Society Organisations dealing with the welfare of the animals have also expressed concerns for the stray dogs.

The executive director of Maya Foundation-Barnyard Bhutan Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Paro, Jamie Vaughan said that besides looking for the stray dogs, her organisation was also taking care of sick and injured animals referred to them.

Currently, the foundation looks after over 500 animals of which about 300 are dogs.

“Army and police have started to feed the stray dogs, and we will coordinate with them to provide other food items to make the meals tastier and nutritious,” said Jamie Vaughan.

However, Jamie Vaughan said that her organisation was also facing challenges due to the lockdown. “We are getting adequate food supplies for dogs and cats but not feed for the horses, cows and other livestock,” she said. “We don’t have enough firewood for cooking and sawdust or wood shavings for livestock bedding since the sites are closed. We are also looking for fodder.”

The foundation has its essentials stranded in Bangkok and New Delhi due to the pandemic. The essentials include supplies for horses, prosthetic leg fabrication and vitamins and supplements.

Board Secretary of the Bhutan Animal Rescue and Care (BARC) centre in Thimphu,

Hendrik Visser said that the centre had received permission to drive and pick up their staff. “While picking up the staff, we are also feeding the stray dogs between Taba, Babesa and Yusipang. However, we were running out of veterinary medicine, but the Indian Army helped just the day before the lockdown.”

There are 400 animals at the BARC centre of which 350 are dogs.

Hendrik Visser said that the centre was ‘relatively comfortable’ with the food items for now. “Since the outbreak of Covid-19 in the region and with anticipation of border closure, we received lots of support from people from all walks of life who donated essential food items such as rice, oil and dhal, among others.”

Officials from Jangsa Animal Saving Trust (JAST) centre in Serbithang had also sent letters to the prime minister, agriculture minister, and health minister requesting approval for the continuation of their monthly mass feeding campaign for the stray dogs during the lockdown.

JAST’s, programme manager, Sonam Norzin said that the authorities informed them that His Majesty’s Secretariat was initiating the feeding programme for stray dogs. “It made our work easier. We are ready to help.”

The national veterinary hospital is helping JAST by providing essential medical supplies. JAST has around 100 animals of which 70 are dogs.