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Barking up the wrong tree

  • Published at 05:37 pm October 16th, 2020

Despite its best intentions, DSCC’s strategy for reducing the street dog population is doomed to backfire. Here’s why

Nadia Tabassum lives on a second floor in Zigatola, where she just moved in. At least 20 dogs live just below her windows in the adjacent empty plot. The free-roaming dogs bark almost constantly throughout the night. With a toddler and a 6-month old, a quiet night of sleep becomes much harder for Nadia with the incessant howling and barking, which are very loudly audible from her bedroom. 

Thankfully, the kids quickly adapted, and now sleep like babies through the night. Nadia is nevertheless flabbergasted that “dog lovers” would not care about this real problem and want to thwart Mayor Taposh in his very reasonable action of removing some of the dogs elsewhere. 

With the Dhaka South City Corporation’s recent plans for relocating dogs, the issue of population control again came at the forefront. The mayor’s decision may be understandable, given he has to listen to his constituency, where people do experience unwanted encounters with street dogs, sometimes getting bitten. By August of this year, 36 thousand people received treatment for dog bites at Mohakhali’s Infectious Disease Hospital. 

“I personally believe, it’s simply not right to relocate dogs like these, who knows what the conditions are like there. Relocating all these dogs will mean they will simply fight over territory and harm each other”- Fariha Zahin, Dhanmondi

Despite the very real problem of dog overpopulation, however the mayor’s decision, no matter how well-intentioned, is not scientific, animal welfare organizations have been pointing out.

Despite the very real problem of dog overpopulation, however the mayor’s decision, no matter how well-intentioned, is not scientific, animal welfare organizations have been pointing out. More importantly, it is not efficient and fails to achieve the goal of managing dog population. The damning evidence is right in front of everyone’s eyes to see. If indeed the old method did work, why is the dog population not under control after years of consistent dog culling? 

“Dhaka South corporation can simply do what the North Corporation is doing. Sterilizing the dogs and vaccinating them should be the answer to all the issues they’ve raised”- Saqif, Shantinagar

Why keep doing something that doesn’t work?    

It’s not that dog culling has not been tried or tried enough. It has, and not just in Bangladesh. A popular method in many countries across the developing world, the method had long been used and was subsequently questioned for its efficacy.

In Delhi, an organized campaign of dog removal managed to kill off a third of the stray dog population but failed to achieve reduction, leading Bangladeshi organization Obhoyaronno cites in a note. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has long advocated an evidence-based approach where authorities should only opt for elimination when it might have a “significant positive impact” on rabies’ situation. 

But just like the Indian case, dog removal failed to work elsewhere, and probably everywhere without exceptions. 

“I understand the number of street dogs is increasing and it’s very clear, every time I go out for a walk, but I have never faced any issue with them honestly, so I can’t really say much, but killing them is not right”- Mehnaz, Dhanmondi

In Hong Kong, killing approximately 32 thousand dogs every year had little impact on the number of free-roaming dogs.

Similarly, in Ecuador the elimination of 12-25% of the dog population each year for five years did not reduce the population, a WHO study found in 1988.  

If it wasn’t glaringly evident from these case studies, a more extreme example in Australia shows how futile dog removal can be. In rural Australia, a whopping 76% of free-roaming or stray dogs were eliminated. The number of dogs returned to pre-cull levels within just one year.

What is the solution then? 

It’s as simple as ABC

Animal Birth Control programs or ABC is an internationally recognized method for controlling dog population that is effective and does not require the much more laborious, and demonstrably inefficient method of culling. 

Animal Birth Control, which involves sterilization and vaccination of dogs, is now an established method across the world, including in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Dogs are captured, sterilized, and vaccinated for rabies before returning to their location. 

"Relocation is not something I support, rather what the DNCC is doing is much more humane as they will sterilize and vaccinate dogs. DSCC should follow the same if possible. I love dogs and I always pat or feed a stray when I see one" - Mayeesha Samiha, Mirpur DOHS

The female dogs undergo ovariohysterectomy, rendering them unable to reproduce. Males are castrated, which not only achieves birth control but makes the dogs less aggressive owing to a lack of testosterone. Sterilizing also prevents female dogs from coming ‘in heat,’ when estrogen levels increase and then sharply decrease, causing fights. 

Fewer dog fights mean there are fewer instances of rabies and other diseases. It also importantly means less public nuisance. Overall, it is also much more cost-effective than dog culling, providing a long term solution. 

By all means, reduce dog population, say activists, but do it efficiently and without cruelty

Despite efforts from animal welfare organizations, dog relocation by Dhaka South City Corporation hasn't stopped. 

Rabita Arefin, director of development with Care for Paws said it had stopped for a week, but DSCC vehicles began picking up stays again about 2/3 days ago. 

"Before the news of relocation came out I was noticing how two of my neighbourhood dogs weren't around anymore. When I discovered what was happening, it was incredibly difficult for me. I don't want to go into the right or wrong debate, but I believe this is not the way to do it" - Diya Khan, Kalabagan

"We don't have a problem with dog population control. You want to make Dhaka dog-free? Fine. Let's make a 5-year plan and implement it. But don't be cruel for no reason," said Rabita. 

As other countries have learned, Bangladesh too should approach the situation by considering what works best. Turkey and Jaipur in India, said Rabita, were in a similar position. They wanted to get rid of dogs completely and went through with a plan of elimination. But the population got back to where it was after 5 years. 

The current relocation initiative is not working either, says Rabita. Many of the Dhaka dogs released in Matuail are quickly sniffing their way back home. "What is the point of this then?" The activist rhetorically asked. 

"I think the mayor is being unreasonable. I live in Kalabagan, and I have been watching many stray dogs growing on their own, yet loved and fed by the local people. I totally agree with the protestors. You don’t necessarily have to be a pet owner to understand this" - Sanjida Mazid Trish, Kalabagan

It makes even less sense, says Rabita, given that the DSCC is spending so much of its resources and man-power for capturing, only to have most of the dogs come right back, when the authority could have used this opportunity to sterilize and vaccinate the dogs. 

"They are capturing and releasing the dogs. That means that they are going through all the steps necessary for sterilizing and vaccinating. But instead of doing that, they are using their resources for something that would not work."

Like Nadia in Zigatola, there are many who support culling and relocation, unaware that removal does not work. To change that, educating the mass public is necessary. But only 5 or 6 organizations with limited resources can't do that, said Rabita. For this, you need support from other stakeholders.

"I did hear about what the DSCC is doing and I think of it as nothing short of barbaric. Till date I have never felt frightened or faced any negative experience due to the dogs present on the street and it seems absurd to me that the government is so adamant in case of such a minor hurdle instead of other major issues on the surface. I do think this is an important issue. I believe dogs are part of our ecosystem and the government is trying to break the chain" - Naziba Naila Wafa, New Eskaton

Animal welfare organizations, such as Rabita's Care for Paws, recommended to the mayor that training ward councillors can be a very effective route for disseminating knowledge to local-level authorities and the public. 

But for now, the authorities seem more interested in short term measures that will likely squander resources and achieve little, if anything.

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