Print Edition - 2014-12-20  |  On Saturday

A stitch in time

  • Apart from a few charity organisations working to control the stray-dog population, nothing much has been done, especially by the government, to address the problem of the ever-increasing street dog population in the Valley
- Prateebha Tuladhar
A stitch in time

Dec 19, 2014-

When a family recently moved out of their house in   Golfutar, Kathmandu, to start a new life abroad, their family dog, Blacksy, suddenly found herself on the streets. She had the harsh weather and the street dogs in the vicinity to deal with, while she learned to survive off scavenging scraps from the garbage piles. In the two winters that followed, she gave birth to two litters of six puppies each, before she died from a swollen uterus.

Like Blacksy, thousands of dogs reproduce every winter in the nooks and crannies of Kathmandu, and the neighbourhoods fill with the sounds of whining puppies, who are learning to follow their mothers around, rummage through garbage piles and defend their spoils with a baring of their now-beginning-to-grow fangs. And every few days, it is easy to spot a new dog, scurrying along with its tail tucked between its legs, under attack from the reigning pack of the  territory.

“We are very worried about dogs being dumped on the streets. We feel bad for these dogs because they are traumatised by suddenly finding themselves on the road, with no survival skills to speak of,” says Lucia de Vries, the Director of Animal Nepal.

As winter arrives on the heels of the mating season for dogs, nearly every locality in Kathmandu sees new litters of puppies. They huddle together on pavements and bask in the sun. They scavenge on garbage piles, wait outside meat shops and gang up against unfamiliar dogs and people at night. During the day, they are docile because the number of humans overpowers them. But during the night, they turn into pack animals, becoming a threat to passersby.

According to a count conducted jointly by the World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT) in 2012, the population of street dogs in Kathmandu was 22,500. This number only includes the dogs in the vicinity of the Ring Road radius. The organisation says that the number was 32,500 in 2006.

“The figure shows that we have been able to keep the number stable through sterilisation,” says Dr Prabin Thapa, a veterinary surgeon and animal birth control in-charge at KAT.

Since 2004, the KAT Centre has been providing treatment to sick street dogs and working to keep their numbers from growing.

“We mostly spay female dogs. Under our rescue and treatment programme, we also neuter male dogs and give rabies shots to male dogs brought in for treatment. But we can’t afford to catch them for neutering alone, due to financial constraints,” says Thapa, who has been conducting sterilisations on stray dogs for the last eight years. “But sterilising both the genders would be more effective, for sure.”

There are also organisations like Animal Nepal, Bhaktapur Animal Welfare Society, Animal Welfare Network Nepal, Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which are doing similar charity work.

At the KAT centre, Thapa, along with his colleague Dr Bidur Pia, conduct sterilisations of up to half a dozen dogs a day, sometimes more. And for an organisation with only six more pairs of hands and space and resource constraints, it can be a lot of work.

“Our target is to sterilise 120 dogs a month,” says Thapa. “But then we only have one ambulance so we can’t pick up dogs as often as we would like, and we can’t sterilise equipment due to the power outage.”

The male dogs are castrated and the females are spayed. It usually takes the vets ten minutes to conduct the surgery. But if the dog is sick, the process can take longer. In the female dogs, a process called ovariohysterectomy is conducted, for the removal of both the ovary and the uterus.

“After the surgery, the ovaries don’t function, so there is no sexual desire in females. Otherwise, females have a  difficult time as the male dogs follow them everywhere during mating season, and they injure each other during fights, causing festering wounds , which often house maggots,” explains Thapa.

For male dogs, castration involves removing their testicles, followed by anti-rabies vaccines. Sterilised dogs are less aggressive but can sometimes turn obese due to a lack of balanced nutrition and exercise.

Organisations usually pick the dogs on the basis of complaints or requests from residents.

“We encourage community participation because the stray dogs are a responsibility of the people as we share the same space,” adds Thapa, who encountered problems with people when he first started picking up dogs off the streets.

“But people seem more concerned and willing to tip us off now.”

In Patan, through a similar programme, Animal Nepal has been able to contribute to a stable dog population. A study conducted in 2013 showed that the number of dogs in the Block D area of Patan had gone down from 7,527 in 2006 to 4,560 in 2010. It further decreased to 2738 in 2012.

There is, however, no government provision in place for the management of street dogs and the organisations are operating, more or less, independently.

Before 2004, the Kathmandu Municipality used to poison street dogs, a practice which came under heavy criticism from animal welfare activists and it was eventually stopped. During Keshav Sthapit’s term as Kathmandu’s mayor, he had announced that the municipality would begin a sterilisation programme. But the idea never really took off.

“There are no such programmes run by the government as of now,” says Dr Balaram Thapa, senior veterinary officer at the Central Animal Hospital in Tripureshwor.

“But the government offers free rabies vaccines to any dog brought in to its veterinary centres across the country.”

As another means of managing the stray population, Animal Nepal has been encouraging people to adopt mutts.

“The mixed breeds found in Nepal have strong genes, while many pure breeds have inherited health problems,” says de Vries. “There is an increase in the number of people who are interested in a ‘Nepali dog’ but we need more interested families.”

But people appear reluctant to adopt mixed breeds as they are not considered status symbols. Moreover, Nepalis generally think of dogs as guard dogs and when dogs don’t serve that purpose, they often get kicked out. Besides fighting other street dogs, many also suffer on account of humans: they are attacked with knives by butchers, for example, when  they try to steal meat, and many suffer from terrible wounds as a result. According to Animal Nepal, there are sporadic reports of dog poisoning too, by people who believe this is the solution to preventing dog bites or noise pollution. And each day, around five dogs are crushed to death along Ring Road alone by careless drivers.

Many animal welfare volunteers and workers wish the government would step in soon. “Start investing in humane dog management,” says de Vries. “Set aside a budget. Pass the animal welfare act, which has been pending for many years. Create a culture of respect for other living beings. Dogs are man’s best friend, and the government owes it to them, and to those who love animals, to take this issue seriously.”

Published: 20-12-2014 08:45

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