How to Handle the Stray Dog Problem in Islamabad

by Ayesha Mateen & Yusuf Khan

Islamabad faces a contentious public health issue that has long plagued its residents: the spread of rabies and the treatment of stray animals.

The complexities surrounding the practice of dog culling as a measure to control rabies have implications for both animal welfare and public health. Despite promises made by the CDA to address the issue with the Sanitation Directorate and collaborate with animal welfare organisations, little progress has been made. The poor implementation of animal rights laws and the CDA’s empty assurances have prompted local NGOs to work tirelessly to rescue and safeguard the city’s vulnerable animal population.

According to the WHO, dog bites are estimated to be up to 99% of all rabies transmissions. The neglect of the disease by Pakistani officials only exacerbates the prevalence of rabies. In 2010, an estimated 97,000 recorded dog bite cases were reported by public health units. The disease has become endemic in Pakistan, with over 50,000 reported cases of dog bites and approximately 6,000 annual deaths, resulting in huge economic losses. But the CDA’s response has been lacklustre.

In 2021, the CDA drew criticism for the handling of stray animal population, particularly its practice of culling dogs. In September 2013, the CDA launched the Sanitation Directorate which, among other environmental sustainability projects, started a campaign on rabies. The campaign targeted and culled stray dogs, but the government did not have any regulations on what methods could be used to kill these dogs. Thus, many dogs suffered painful deaths, often having their legs tied and then being shot or poisoned. Sometimes citizens joined in to hang or poison the dogs as well.

In response to public outcry, the CDA announced a ban on the killing of dogs, pledging to collaborate with animal welfare organisations for vaccination and care. However, despite these assurances, progress has been sluggish. The CDA has only managed to build one shelter, which falls far short of addressing the extensive issue at hand. The shelter has a capacity for 500 dogs only, which the stray dog population exceeds this. Furthermore, the promises of partnerships with prominent NGOs remain largely unfulfilled.

Disturbing reports regarding the culling of dogs keep surfacing. Remarkably, the involvement of law enforcement in these inhumane activities is of particular concern. This situation prompts inquiries into the CDA’s level of commitment to the welfare of stray animals and animal rights within the capital.

In light of the CDA’s shortcomings, local organizations and individuals have taken proactive measures to address the rabies crisis through initiatives characterized by humane approaches, including but not limited to the Stray Homes Shelter, CDRS Benji, The Pawprint, and United Rescue. Through firsthand accounts, we hear the heartbreaking stories of dog owners who witnessed the brutal treatment of their animals that were confused with strays or unjustly reported by residents in the neighbourhood.

By learning the practices in other nations faced with similar challenges, we suggest examining the implementation of effective global programs to mitigate rabies and control the stray dog population. The Netherlands is a notable example, where rabies is eradicated by instituting a government-funded CNVR (Catch, Neuter, Vaccinate, Return) initiative. As per the Soi Dog Organization, mass spaying and neutering of these animals is the most ethical and effective method for managing strays.

Local NGOs exemplify alternative solutions in addressing the rabies crisis, by providing crucial animal vaccination and rehabilitation services, thus contributing to a safer environment. The success of these initiatives serves as a beacon of hope for the community, and promotes animal welfare as well.

As the relevant authorities grapple with the rabies issue, it is essential to recognise and support dedicated individuals who are making a difference. By highlighting their efforts, we can advocate for robust and humane strategies to protect the vulnerable animals in  Islamabad and foster compassion in our community.

Yusuf Khan and Ayesha Mateen are high school seniors who research and write on international politics, economics, and government policy

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