Bhutan has a serious stray dog problem today. But it is not new.
The government had tried to address the problems and control the dog population with numerous measures for more than half a century now. All of that failed.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, dogs were shot and poisoned as a quick-fix solution to control their number. When that idea failed, dogs were translocated from towns to rural areas. This had an extremely detrimental effect, with dogs turning wild and preying on livestock and wildlife.
Another failed dog population control method was “impounding”, which cost the government Nu 27M (million) for establishing dog shelters throughout the country in mid-2000 (a decade ago?). Then the nationwide ad-hoc sterilisation programme was initiated.
Over 56,000 stray dogs have been sterilised and vaccinated against rabies between 2010 and 2015. For that, the livestock department’s (DoL) National Centre for Animal Health was awarded an “outstanding animal protection award” in 2015 in New Orleans, USA. It is the second award the department has received.
The first “outstanding animal protection educator award” was awarded to the department’s director general in May 2012.
Despite the awards for the efforts, the problems remained. And residents in highlands continued to lose their livestock to feral dogs left behind by travellers, rabies outbreaks frequented communities at times even claiming the lives of people, and the incessant barking became a nuisance at night for both tourists and residents alike.
Yesterday, the government launched yet another campaign to control the dog population. This time, however, it is not the livestock department alone. Non-government organisations working with dogs, the local government and residents are being taken on board. Or at least that is the plan.
Until now the lack of community support for similar dog population control programmes thwarted the success of such initiatives. But going by the way the programme has been implemented in some dzongkhags, stakeholders need to push harder. Institutions like dratshang and schools, among others, can help sterilise and vaccinate all dogs within their premises.
The problems are going to be bigger in Thimphu.
Adopting dogs for residents who live in rented accommodation is not practical. For many residents, landlords have set limits on the number of visitors one can entertain at home forget adopting dogs.
Adopting dogs means accepting responsibility to look after their needs and welfare. How many are aware of vaccination and health needs?
While the livestock department works hard to push dogs off the streets into the homes of the residents, it needs to sensitise those willing to adopt adequately on these aspects.