Are stray dogs a problem?

Clearly, the situation is getting out of hand

The statistics are simply astounding. According to Who, in 2011 there were more than 200m stray dogs worldwide. A mere seven years later, in 2018, CARO (Companion Animal Responsible Ownership) reports that this figure has increased by a staggering 240% to reach 480m! Could this be a contributory factor in sending 815m humans to bed hungry every night?

Unsurprisingly the stray problem is worse in poorer countries where dog ownership is not taken seriously and pets are abandoned to proliferate unchecked in the wild. For example, Bali has a population of 500,000 strays. In India there are 35m strays and the country accounts for 35% of worldwide deaths from rabies. In the Philippines there are 11.6m strays, and rabies is rampant. Presently the Filipino authorities are running a vast vaccination programme aimed at getting rid of this scourge island by island. However there are well over 7000 islands which are inhabited by humans; so we can imagine the enormity of the job.

Proliferation

In common with other canines, dogs tend to procreate at a phenomenal rate. In 2016 the Ministry of Agriculture estimated the number of strays to be 80k. In 2018, PAWS reckons the number is 200-300k and “the situation is already out of control.” From personal observation, I think the figure is nearer 600k. We simply have to do the maths. Normally a bitch can give birth to an average 5 puppies every 6-months. So assuming that the female population was 50pc of the total in 2016 and they had two litters in the meantime, that would add an additional 400k strays in one year.

Five years ago, there were about half a dozen strays living on Butte à l’Herbe beach — a lovely sandy spot with shallow warm water that makes it the ideal place for a family picnic. Last week, on a visit to my friend Keshraj, we saw that number had ballooned to about 25 dogs of assorted ages — from weeks-old puppies to pubescent youngsters and older mums, dads and grandparents. Unfortunately they tend to congregate near the washrooms, so you venture to spend your proverbial penny at your risk and peril. They are so dangerous that Keshraj and his wife have stopped taking their morning stroll on the beach for fear of being attacked by these uninoculated, disease-ridden, vicious packs of vermins.

Disease

Dogs are known to be prime vectors of serious diseases, some of them deadly. Perhaps the most serious is rabies. It is incurable and therefore fatal. When a human gets bitten by a rabid dog, he automatically contracts the disease. And suffers from horrible symptoms such damage to the central nervous system, encephalitis and hydrophobia, i.e. a fear of water. Just imagine having this morbid fear of swallowing your own saliva to moisten your parched throat and you get a measure of the awfulness of this disease. Death invariably follows within days of the onset of symptoms. Worldwide 55,000 people die from rabies while 15m others are given treatment in the form of inoculation to avert the disease.

Other diseases that dogs may transmit to humans include Toxocariasis, Lyme disease, Campylobacter infection, Rocky Mountain fever and a host of worm infestations. Although none of these are immediately life threatening, all of them can cause serious malaise in the infected person.

Of course some of these diseases are more serious than others. Take Dirofilariasis that is caused by roundworms. It can cause heart disease in dogs. When passed on to humans, it can result in painful subcutaneous lumps that have to be removed surgically. It can also cause severe lesions in the lungs leading to difficulty in breathing and other debilitating symptoms as result of insufficient intake of air and oxygen.

Roundworms can also cause Toxocariasis. This is caused by a particular parasitic roundworm that resides in the intestines of dogs. So when our cuddly pet dog defecates in our garden, the eggs of the worm gets deposited in the soil where we grow our fruits and veg and where our kids play. You can imagine the rest. When we accidentally ingest the contaminated soil or salads grown on it, the eggs hatch in our digestive tract and cause an infection that is aptly known as Visceral Larva Migrans. From the intestines the larva can migrate to other organs including the eye and cause Toxocariasis, which can lead to irreversible blindness. I wonder how many loving parents realise that their cherished pet dog can cause them and their children to go blind.

The Problem

There is no doubt that stray dogs pause a serious problem to public health in Mauritius. Unfortunately statistics about dog attacks are hard to find, but we all know of someone who has had the misfortune of being a victim. On the other hand, many cases go unreported, particular when the guilty canine is the undeclared, uninoculated pet (that’s most owned dogs!) of a friend or a neighbour. Other victims are happy to receive a cash compensation from the owner before proceeding to the medical centre for their Tetanus/other jab. But there is no one responsible for attacks by strays; so who to hold responsible? The short answer is the Mauritian citizen.

Having lived in Europe for much of his life, my friend Keshraj says he cannot remember having ever been confronted by a stray dog. If there was a stray problem there in the past, they managed to rid themselves of it a long time ago. But the task is far from easy. According to Patti Strand, founder member of NAIA (National Animal Interest Alliance, USA) which is an NGO dedicated to promote high standards of animal care and treatment, it took the USA 150 years to get its stray problem under control.

Given the small size of Mauritius, it should not take all that long. But badgered by assorted lobbies run by thoughtless do-gooders for the safety of the human population, Government has capitulated (not to say abdicated) and failed to deal aggressively with the stray problem over the years.

Solutions

Up to now the normal practice has been for Mauritius Society for Animal Welfare (MSAW) to capture the dogs and euthanize them at their dog compound. But one solitary man with a small net can only catch one dog at a time. Unfortunately the other members of the pack do not wait in a line for their turn! The efforts of humane NGOs must be admired, but ultimately destined to failure not only due to the sheer numbers but also due to the irresponsibility of Mauritian citizens who think nothing of abandoning little pups in the wild. These eventually grow and multiply to add further to the stray problem. As pointed out earlier, even PAWS reckons that the situation is out of control.

Given the huge number of strays, every measure — vaccination, neutering, spaying, catching — undertaken so far has been an abject failure. So the one and only solution seems to be culling. Sure there will be protests from well-meaning local and Western NGOs. But then their countries are not flooded with strays.

As Patti Strand points out, culling sparks “sensational headlines and searing criticisms in the West” but this is only because they are ignorant of the realities of the Third world where control is often a matter of human survival. She agrees that “it is sad that stray dogs have to be killed, but any attempt to apply American no-kill philosophy to parts of the world where dogs are suffering as well as threatening human life is unrealistic and harmful.” And she is not alone but, as usual, the vociferous minority gets the attention of a compliant media!

Finally I leave the reader with the words of Gandhiji who is perhaps the greatest proponent of non-violence. Writing in Young India in 1926, he had this to say:

“A roving dog without an owner is a danger to society and a swarm of them is a menace to its very existence… If we want to keep dogs in towns or villages in a decent manner, no dog should be suffered to wander. There should be no stray dogs even as we have no stray cattle…

“But can we take individual charge of these roving dogs? Can we have a pinjrapole for them? If both these things are impossible, then there seems to me no alternative except to kill them.”

A vous de jouer, Monsieur le Premier ministre, Mesdames et Messieurs les ministres…


* Published in print edition on 23 November 2018

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