By Sydney S. Chellen
Mauritius, a picturesque island nation in the Indian Ocean, renowned for its natural beauty and cultural diversity, is a favoured holiday destination for countless tourists, especially from the United Kingdom. The island is celebrated for its stunning beaches, coral reefs and diverse wildlife. Yet, behind this paradise, a harsh and distressing reality persists for thousands of dogs that roam its streets and beaches.
If a society permitted its people to wander the streets in search of food or shelter, it would undoubtedly spark outrage. Then why is it acceptable for dogs to roam the streets in search of sustenance and refuge? Anyone who has ever owned a dog can attest to the unique bond they share with these loyal and loving creatures. Dogs offer a loyalty and devotion unmatched elsewhere. They stand watch, they protect, they leap with joy upon your arrival, and they’d readily put their lives on the line to save yours when danger looms.
During my numerous visits to Mauritius, I was disheartened by the distressing sight of dogs living in unacceptable conditions. Like paupers, they roam the streets, the beaches, and even the vicinity of hotels. It is abundantly clear that the island grapples with a severe dog overpopulation problem.
According to Humane Society International (HSI)1, the island is home to an estimated 250,000 dogs, of which 55,000-60,000 are homeless or abandoned by their owners. This equates to one street dog for every 20 human residents, not even accounting for dogs predominantly confined to houses or yards.
It becomes evident that many islanders lack compassion or empathy for these animals, which is deeply concerning. How can we tolerate these dogs living in squalor, scouring for food, enduring disease, injury, and constant threats from humans and other animals? It’s a shame that what’s paradise for humans has become a living hell for these innocent animals.
As these dogs now surpass the capacity of Mauritian society to care for them as companion animals, they have been relegated to the status of a nuisance. While it is reasonable for tourists to fear diseases like rabies, leptospirosis, and scabies transmitted by these dogs, it’s inexcusable that locals allowed overpopulation to reach this point. Prevention of unwanted litters and responsible ownership education should have been the focus.
Mauritian citizens, by and large, are not impoverished. The vast majority appear well-fed, well-dressed, and educated. Yet, even as a 2020 report by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development2 reveals some households living below the poverty line, it raises a critical question: if someone cannot afford to care for a dog as they would for a child, should they own one? Is it because a dog is an animal that it is not afforded the same respect and care as a child?
Unfortunately, even well-educated locals sometimes exhibit callousness. Such an attitude has no place in any civilized society. Consider this: as you drive through Mauritius, you may encounter individuals blocking the road with little regard for oncoming motorists, forcing you to swerve. Yet, when you approach a dog occupying the road, it promptly makes way. Who, in this scenario, demonstrates sensibility and civility?
Likewise, if nocturnal disturbances from people fighting and shouting lead you to complain to the police, action would be taken. But when negligent dog owners let their animals roam the streets, fighting and barking, there is often no police intervention. This double standard is glaring.
One does not need to be an animal lover to empathize with the plight of these dogs. The Mauritian government should have been stricter with dog owners who overbred and allowed dogs to roam unattended. The dogs’ incessant barking is a symptom of deeper issues. The blame should fall on the owners.
While man may have dominion over animals, it does not grant us the right to abuse, neglect, or harm dogs. Instead, we should use what God has created for our good and His glory. We should reflect the image of the One in whose image we are made and treat His creation with kindness.
If Mauritius can uphold these values, it can truly become a tropical paradise renowned not just for its beaches and turquoise waters, but for its compassion towards animals, especially the loving dogs.
Now, there is an effort to address the dog overpopulation issue. Since 1970, the government has taken action1. Better late than never. However, the method chosen, a brutal culling program involving catching and injecting dogs, is cruel and ineffective. Around 2,000 dogs have suffered needlessly under this program, a program often executed by untrained workers.
Thankfully this practice has garnered widespread condemnation from animal welfare groups, celebrities, and concerned tourists who have witnessed the suffering. Some tourists have reported the trauma of witnessing dogs being killed in front of their children or finding dead dogs on the beach. This approach is inhumane and fails to address the root issue, which is a lack of sterilization and responsible ownership.
In 2023, thanks to a campaign by HSI, a humane and effective alternative to culling was established. A partnership agreement with the Mauritian government’s Ministry of Agro Industry and Food Security, supported by International Animal Rescue and the Marching Animal Welfare Trust, enabled the opening of the island’s first dedicated spay and neuter clinic.1
Located in Port Louis, the clinic, staffed by veterinarians, HSI volunteers, and local organizations, offers free sterilization services, vaccinations, deworming, and microchipping. This ‘spay and neuter’ program promises several benefits for both the dogs and their owners. It aims to reduce the number of unwanted puppies on the streets, improve the dogs’ health and welfare, prevent the spread of diseases, reduce conflicts with humans and wildlife, and enhance Mauritius’ image as a humane and compassionate destination.1
Accessing local veterinary care is the right choice. Where it is lacking, utilizing the HSI’s free ‘spay and neuter’ clinic is commendable. The clinic is willing to reach remote areas and provide services to those without transportation, adhering to international standards of animal welfare and using humane surgical methods.
Preventing unwanted litters will go a long way in reducing the number of dogs on the streets and in shelters. Vaccinating dogs against diseases is equally important for the well-being of both humans and animals.
This ‘spay and neuter’ program marks a pivotal moment in Mauritius’ animal welfare history. It represents a shift from a violent and futile approach to a humane and effective one. It offers hope for the thousands of dogs that have suffered under the culling program and sets an example for other countries facing similar challenges with dog overpopulation.
However, the clinic should not be seen as a magical solution that can solve all problems overnight. Challenges, such as limited resources and logistical difficulties, remain.
Given that Mauritius depends on tourism, tourists may be less likely to visit Mauritius if they are concerned about the risk of disease or the sight of dogs living in squalor. The plight of dogs in Mauritius could also impact the tourism industry in other ways. For example, negative publicity about the issue could discourage tourists from booking trips to the island. Additionally, tourists who do visit Mauritius may be less likely to spend money on activities and attractions if they are concerned about the welfare of dogs.
There must be a significant shift in the attitudes of the island’s inhabitants. The quicker, the better.
The fate of dogs in Mauritius hinges on the collective efforts of all stakeholders: the government, the public, the private sector, the media, and civil society. Together, they can create a better future for dogs on the island.
Sydney S. Chellen was born in 1945, in the village of Beau Bois, Mauritius. He was a Senior University Lecturer, in Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, United Kingdom. During his teaching career he has written several educational books. His book: The Essential Guide to the Internet for Health Professionals became an instant best seller in the United Kingdom and sold in North America. Since his retirement he has taken up writing novels. His autobiography, ‘An Untold Story Retold’ is published by GPS BOOKS UK and its full (free) version is available, for a limited period only, at: https://archive.org//details/@sydney_s_chellen
Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 17 November 2023
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