Valerie BenkaAnimals and Public Policy, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University
Nepal's Kathmandu Valley is home to thousands of dogs, alternately described as community, free-roaming, loosely owned, and stray. In addition to suffering from injury, illness, and abuse at the hands of humans, these dogs present health and safety threats. The most serious of these threats is rabies. Several studies have shown that in Nepal and neighboring countries, dog bites are the overwhelming source of exposure among people seeking anti-rabies treatment, as well as the primary cause of rabies cases.
In Kathmandu and many other cities around the world, dogs have historically been poisoned to reduce the canine population and to protect humans from rabies. This strategy has generated controversy and resistance due to the suffering it can cause dogs; the risks it presents to other animals, to people, and to the environment; and the position that the poisoned dogs often have as accepted and appreciated members of the community. Moreover, exterminating roaming dogs has proven not to be a long-term solution to reducing canine population numbers, canine rabies cases, and human rabies exposures and/or deaths. New, intact dogs enter the territories of those dogs that have been killed and produce a new generation of intact and unvaccinated dogs. In recent decades, several cities, including Kathmandu, have implemented a drastically different form of canine population and rabies control, most often titled Animal Birth Control/Anti-Rabies (ABC/AR). In addition to being more humane, ABC/AR has been found in other cities to be a highly effective method of stabilizing free-roaming dog populations and reducing rabies in both canine and human populations.
In 2004, the Kathmandu Animal Treatment (KAT) Centre introduced ABC/AR to Nepal's capital city and to the more than 20,000 dogs that live within its central area. The municipal government agreed to cease poisoning dogs in the communities in which the KAT Centre operates. However, the KAT Centre is limited by location and capacity in the number of dogs it can treat, and there continue to be communities that use strychnine to reduce numbers of dogs. The research objective was to gather information that can be incorporated into a long-term strategy to control the dog population and rabies problem using non-lethal measures.
A two-part research project was conducted in the spring and summer of 2009. First, international animal welfare non-governmental organizations practicing animal birth control were consulted to develop a set of recommendations and best practices for ABC/AR programs. Of particular interest were the length of time from dog capture to release, as well as the various factors that must be considered in developing a sterilization and rabies control program that ensures the welfare of dogs while maximizing the use of limited funds and space. Second, on-site interviews were conducted with Kathmandu's multiple stakeholders in, and experts on, the city's dog population: local and municipal government offices; veterinarians; paraveterinarians; non-governmental organizations; and the Alliance for Rabies Control, a model for multi-sector collaboration designed to address the free-roaming dog problem. This poster presents the results of these communications and interviews, including community attitudes toward dogs, rabies, dog welfare, and veterinary care; the root sources of free-roaming dogs; and strategies to expand humane canine population control in Kathmandu and, potentially, cities in other developing countries. The project also highlights opportunities for collaboration among veterinarians and veterinary schools in Nepal and in the United States, with the objective of improving animal welfare in a substantial, tangible way, while removing threats to human health.