Street dogs are as inextricable part of the Kathmandu landscape as temples. The most recent data from the Kathmandu Metropolitan City estimates Kathmandu’s street dog population to be around 30,000 strays, although the number is likely higher. Sustaining themselves off garbage and scraps put out by people, these mixed-breed dogs live in groups in neighbourhoods across the Capital, often times in close proximity and contact with humans. However, the unregulated swell in their numbers in the past few years is becoming a matter of growing concern.
According to the Teku-based Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, five people died last month from rabies following dog bites. The hospital’s records show the incidences of dog bites are on the rise in Kathmandu, with 36,089 patients visiting the hospital for anti-rabies vaccinations in 2017, a rise from 29,309 instances in 2016. Records also show that the inflow of patients double on the weekends and public holidays when more children are out playing in the streets.
A combination of factors has contributed to this growing problem. One of them is the lack of oversight over the burgeoning pet industry in the country, which is currently lumped under the purview of The Ministry of Livestock Development—the government body that oversees animal welfare and industries in Nepal. While it is difficult to put a number on how big the pet economy is at the moment, some estimates put the annual turnover at about Rs 600 million. This growing obsession with foreign breeds and excessive unregulated breeding has led to a situation where the demand for ‘high value’ pure-breed puppies have soared, while the Nepali mixed breed has literally become worthless. As a result, even though encouraging adoptions can be a viable solution to getting strays off the streets, its popularity is yet to catch on in Nepal.
Another long-term solution is Animal Birth Control (ABC). Sterilising and vaccinating dogs is a one-time intervention that can effectively reduce the number of dogs, as well as disease and behavioural problems. What’s more, ABC is relatively inexpensive: the medicine costs come to about Rs 1500 per dog. Over the years, the government as initiated several ABC drives to manage the population of street dogs, most recently collaborating with the Humane Society International on a community dog management programme with a budget of Rs 35 million in 2016. But apart from sterilising dogs in the Singha Durbar area, the project failed to expand the drive to other neighbourhoods in the Capital.
Last month, the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh faced an unprecedented crisis when their rocketing street dog population began to turn on humans, killing 13 children. In the fallout, hundreds of dogs were lynched in retributive killings in the region.
Nepal’s, and Kathmandu’s, street dog issue pales in comparison; but by proactively rolling out innovative and humane solutions to manage the stray population now, the government could ensure that the streets remain safe for both humans and their best friends.