Stray dog problem has been Bhutan’s long-standing problem. There have been many interventions to address the problem but then stray dog population has been only growing and the many associated problems with instead of subsiding.
Some say that Bhutan knew about the problem of stray dogs only after the country opened up to tourism. The peace-seeking-high-paying tourists were reportedly traumatised by the constant barking and, sometimes, nasty biting.
As our little villages grew to towns and the little town to cities, dog problem grew with it. With a little touch of humour that people often look at the problem, the best measure of Bhutan’s modernisation process, which has been very impressive indeed, has been the rise in the number of stray dog population.
Stray dogs aren’t a problem by themselves, though. It is a problem when they begin to bite people every now and then.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, dogs were shot and poisoned to control the number. When the idea failed, dogs were translocated from towns to rural areas. That had a detrimental effect, with dogs turning wild and preying on livestock and wildlife.
The people in the rural areas of the country are still with this problem.
We have played with the idea of impounding the stray dogs and nationwide sterilisation programme after that. Over 56,000 stray dogs were sterilised and vaccinated against rabies between 2010 and 2015.
We even got the “Outstanding Animal Protection” award, not once, but twice in recognition of the effort to sterilise and vaccinate stray dogs.
The awards do not count when the country is still overwhelmed by uncontrollable number of stray dogs.
The national referral hospital in Thimphu recorded 1,547 in 2020 and 415 cases between January and June this year. That means at least two people were bitten by dogs every day in the past six months on the streets of Thimphu.
What matters more is how successfully we are dealing with the rising stray dog population in the country. The idea of adopting stray dogs was never going to succeed.
It was tourists who brought the problem of stray dogs to the limelight. Many years ago. Our people are voicing the same today. What this means is that we really have to do something to address the problem of rising stray dog population.
A sensible and radical approach to solve this problem is urgent.