A better future for stray dogs in Colombo | Sunday Observer

A better future for stray dogs in Colombo

29 January, 2017

Colombo and the suburbs have a large number of stray dogs which can pose a (rabies) danger to public health. This is also not good from the point of view of the animals themselves as it is difficult to find food in the city. They then tend to forage garbage bins and also live near facilities such as eateries where throw-away food is available. They are also a traffic hazard. (There is a stray cat population as well, but the problem is not so serious).

Earlier, the municipal authorities used toi destroy the stray dogs, but this practice is no longer continued after a persistent campaign by animal rights poriganisations, who have instead advocated sterilisation as a solution to control the dog population. They also work hard to re-home the stray pups and dogs and of course, cats, placing nws utrems and advertisements in the newspapers.

The Animal Welfare and Protection Association (AWPA) has always advocated that sterilizing of the female and the male dog is the only humane and effective solution to controlling the stray dog population not only in Colombo but in the whole of Sri Lanka. They spend a lot of time talking and educating the public when they are contacted for help to re-home pups. Additionally they carry out regular sterilization campaigns from their two shelters and at various locations again within Colombo and outstations where they adopt the method of CNVR: Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate and Return. This technique is generally accepted as the best practice, being humane and practical, as a solution for the overpopulation of stray animals and is supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). Stray dogs and dogs with an owner are collected, neutered, vaccinated, marked and returned to the locality in which they live.

The objectives of the AWPA regarding stray dogs in Colombo is to reduce the stray dog population through sterilization, responsible pet ownership and rehoming. They also seek to discourage the purchase of expensive foreign breed dogs and to instead adopt local dogs. The number of stray dogs has reduced due to the ongoing sterilisations by Animal Welfare Organizations and the Government, preventing the birth of thousands of unwanted pups.

The state of the stray has improved as sterilized dogs are healthier and especially when street animals are looked after by dog friendly individuals who cannot take in anymore into their home but care for the nearby street dogs by feeding, sterilizing and immunising annually and obtaining dog registration. But there still are dogs that need attention.

Dogs become strays due to the public abandoning them on the road and at market places, and if not sterilized they will litter and the population will increase.

Neutering of the male dog is as important as sterilization of the female dog which the AWPA does. The Government needs to make it mandatory to register all dogs and offer free sterilization and rabies immunisation in different localities, says AWPA. The dog pound is doing this but this needs to be widely publicized and replicated islandwide. There should also be a 24-hour government veterinary hospital in Colombo and mobile service. It is also vital to educate children and people islandwide on developing a compassionate attitude towards all animals, especially dogs and cats.

The AWPA plans to create awareness on the importance of sterilization of the female and male dog being the most humane and effective way for dog population management and to support this activity by implementing sterilization campaigns as much as funds permit. Once sterilized and immunized annually they will not be a problem to the public. The dogs can remain where they are at present. Many are loved and valued for their protection of the community. The removal of a set of community dogs from one location will often result in their being replaced by unknown dogs. The known dogs are always safer than the unknown and provide a safety barrier.

The Blue Paw Trust has carried out a five and half year scientific, humane and holistic dog population and rabies management project in Colombo from June 2007 to December 2012 together with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). They started this project in response to the “no-kill policy” introduced in 2006 by the then President. Until then, for more than 100 years, the Colombo Municipal Council was catching and culling stray dogs as a method of population and rabies control. When the “no-kill policy” was implemented the Colombo Municipal Council had no alternative methods in place to control the stray dog population. Therefore, the stray dog population was increasing rapidly and posed a huge threat to the human population in terms of a potential rabies outbreak.

The Director of Blue Paw Trust, Dr. Ganga De Silva says that according to the dog population survey that was carried out in 2007, the Colombo Municipal Council area had about 5,000 stray dogs and 20,000 owned dogs. During the project period, they surgically sterilized more than 80% of the female stray dogs and vaccinated more than 80% of the total stray population for three consecutive years. As a result, they were able to control the stray dog population; the stray population which was increasing at a rate of 18% in 2007 decreased to 9% in 2012 at the time the project ended. Further, they were able to bring down annual dog rabies cases from an average of 35 to three within these five and half years.

However, Blue Paw Trust’s offer to help the Colombo Municipal Council for another three years (from 2013 to 2015) was not followed up on. Therefore, currently they are not involved in stray dog control programme in Colombo. The Blue Paw Trust’s objectives are to eliminate rabies in stray dogs and to have a smaller and healthier stray dog population with better welfare in Colombo. However, they could not continue their work after December 2012 as the MoU with the CMC was not extended.

The state of stray dogs now is much better than it was in 2007. The Trust has been observing and scientifically assessing their levels of welfare. During the project period they monitored and evaluated the welfare of stray dogs every three months and their condition improved gradually. Although they do not have an official project now they periodically monitor the situation out of interest to see what is happening in Colombo.

The Blue Paw Trust suggests that policy makers should introduce good strategies based on science and must ensure that these are implemented until the problem is fully solved regardless of who is in office. And with regard to stray dogs they would suggest that the authorities give the opportunity to organisations such as theirs to improve welfare and eliminate rabies. They have done this scientifically and humanely and have produced measurable results.

The President of the Ceylon Kennel Club, Mrs. Lucille Dahanayake says that the stray dog population in Colombo has increased because many dogs are being dumped on the road. But killing dogs is not the solution to the problem. The practice of killing stray dogs was stopped on a Vesak Poya in 2006 by the former President who issued a Presidential decree which put an end to it.

Mrs. Dahanayake has suggested to the authorities that they should try an experimental project which provides good homes for street dogs. She says that there should not be more than 200 dogs allocated to one care home. She further says that some dogs are very badly ill treated (animal cruelty), and the authorities should initiate a programme to re-home them.

She adds that authorities should raise awareness among people through television, radio and newspapers and it has to be a properly launched programme.

Sagarika Rajakarunanayake, Founder and President of Sathwa Mithra (Friends of Animals) which is an organisation that takes care of animals in distress, says that it is a cause where one has to have full commitment like in e case of children or the helpless. The primary objective of Sathwa Mithra was to introduce animal rights to society and see that everyone is inspired to carry it out.

It was one of the earliest organisations to bring out the issue amongst government institutions and ordinary people, to rouse them and recognise the rights of animals who are suffering because of the cruelty done to them.

Mrs. Rajakarunanayake emphasises that killing dogs should not happen in Sri Lanka, and that vaccination programmes should be introduced to prevent rabies. Sri Lanka should follow the guidelines provided by the WHO. She also says that the solution to the problem of stray dogs lies in the culture of this country where people are tolerant. The dogs in this country live amongst the people, and in return the dogs guard the settlements and people’s houses. Mrs. Rajakarunanayake says that it is important to implement a humane and scientific solution which sterilises and vaccinates to reduce the number of dogs and control the dog population.

Anusha David, Founder and Chairperson of Rescue Animals Sri Lanka, says she has been rescuing animals off the road since she was eight years old, and her organisation is formalising what she has been doing for almost 50 years. She says the solution to the problem of stray dogs is to re-home, sterilise and vaccinate them. That is the humane way to control the dog population, she asserted.

(Pictures by Ranjith Asanka and Thushara Fernando)