Thukten Zangpo 

Hundreds of dogs being killed and hurt are reported because of vehicle accidents, stabbing, poisoning in the country annually.

Statistics maintained with Barnyard Bhutan Animal Rescue and Sanctuary in Paro show that more than 30 dogs are hit by vehicles every month, of which 5 to 15 percent are dead on arrival for treatment, and 40 percent become handicapped and require long-term care.

Annually, at least 20 dogs are caught in wire traps, 10 animals are stabbed, poisoned; about 25 to 35 are slashed, 15 are pelted with stones and thrown sticks, and 5 are set on fire and poured boiling water over.

Similarly, Jangsa Animal Saving Trust recorded 580 cases of dogs run by vehicles, 52 trapped in wildlife hunting traps, 18 stabbed, 34 beaten or thrown stones and 20 cases of pet dogs being ill-treated in two years – between 2019 and 2020.

These numbers are alarming, activists say, and demand Animal welfare law and policy in the country. Many feel that wrongdoers escape without penalty.

In Bhutan, the Section 396 (D) of the Penal Code of Bhutan states: “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of malicious mischief if the defendant without right or any reasonable ground to believe that the defendant has the right to do so: causes serious bodily injury to an animal.”

A lawyer with Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law, Kesang Wangmo, argued that the section was not adequate and the Section did not provide animal protection.

Penalty is a petty misdemeanor, which is imprisonment for one month or more but less than one year. It is also a compoundable offence, which means the person can pay a fine or fee instead of an imprisonment sentence.

“People can harm stray dogs and get away,” Kesang Wangmo said, adding that Bhutan needs either an animal welfare law or anti-cruelty law.

Anti-cruelty law ensures that people do not harm the animals, and if they hurt animals, they are penalised. According to the welfare law, the State protects welfare of the animals.

“Animals have the cognitive ability, they can feel pain, happiness, and joy,” Kesang Wangmo said, adding that for the laws to manifest the critical mass has to build up a strong momentum and lawmakers should listen to what people really feel and what is pertinent now.

Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of Barnyard Bhutan, Jamie Vaughan, said that it is very important that animal welfare law extend to all animals, both owned and stray.

“Many animals do not have owners to speak for them, but that does not make their life any less important or their right to protection and justice any less significant,” she added.

Jamie Vaughan also said that having the ability to report animal cruelty, abuse, and neglect anonymously is also very crucial as most people are afraid to speak up against the people committing such acts.

She added that such cases should be investigated and taken seriously because, as statistics show, such actions are often precursors to domestic abuse and other violence and mental instability which can equally affect humans.

The manager of Jangsa Animal Saving Trust, Sonam Norzin, said that people complain about the dogs becoming aggressive and causing nuisance; the main cause of the problem is humans.

Founder of Zeus, Thinley Norbu, said that the organisation put up three complaints related to vehicle accidents involving dogs to the police.

He said that only in one case, a wrongdoer agreed to look after the dog until it recovered.