Punjab to Spay Stray Dogs

More than 450,000 dogs are expected to be vaccinated and neutered during the campaign

The Punjab Government has finally crafted a solution to control the growing population of stray dogs in the province.

For the first time in decades, the provincial administration has decided to neuter the free-roaming population of stray dogs instead of killing them.

The decision to sterilize more than 450,000 stray dogs was taken during a meeting chaired by the additional chief secretary in April 2021.

Under the detailed plan prepared by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), an autonomous body that works for the welfare of animals, the provincial administration will not kill the tens of thousands of the street dogs that bite millions of people annually, including a significant number of children.

The decision makes Punjab the only province that will neuter stray dogs instead of killing them, which is a common practice across the country.

In the first phase of the proposed operation, street dogs will be vaccinated and tagged. In the second phase the vaccinated animals will be neutered.

In early 2021, Animal Rights Advocacy Group (ARAG) had filed a petition in the Lahore High Court (LHC) challenging the government’s policy of killing stray dogs. In its ruling the LHC directed the provincial administration to craft an alternative plan to control the growing population of street dogs.

While inquiries were being made about existing policies on the matter, one senior official from the provincial health department revealed that there are no documented instructions or laws that suggest stray dogs should be killed. “They are killed because that is an easy way to reduce their population,” said the official, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity. Rights groups believe 40 per cent of Punjab’s estimated 450,000 stray dogs are male and the remaining are female. By following what they called the ethical way of controlling the stray dog population, the province will be able to reduce the number of deaths caused by dog bites.

Irked residents also believe the new policy will make the streets safer. “n some areas walking outside is akin to be swimming with crocodiles.

According to a WHO report, each year more than 60,000 people die from rabies in Asia and Africa. A significant number of these deaths occur because of rabid street dogs. Under the Punjab government’s new plan, all stray dogs will be vaccinated. Once that is done, the male dogs will be spayed by the city administration. Vaccination services, an official letter said, will be provided by the Livestock and Dairy Development Department and district veterinary hospitals will be responsible for neutering the animals.

While no department has collected detailed information about dog bite incidents in the country, the data available at the dog bite center in Lahore shows that around 40,000 such incidents take place in Punjab annually, while the estimate for the whole country is over 200,000. Besides injuries, a number of deaths were also reported across the province due to dog bites.

Regardless of the number, the provincial government is not taking any major step to make the treatment and vaccination more accessible in the province.

The treatment for the victims is also expensive. There is only one big dog bite center active in the Punjab province, while the hospitals are facing shortage of rabies vaccine. Dog bite is the major cause of rabies but the authorities do not appear to give adequate importance to preventing it.

The province’s only major dog bite center is located on Jail Road, while two small centers are working in Multan and Rawalpindi.

According to a report compiled by the Special Branch, 11 deaths due to dog bite were reported in Punjab in 2020.

According to another report, 40,000 stray dogs were killed in a year, while their total number was much higher.

Dr Abdul Rahman, a rabies specialist at University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences (UVAS), stressed the need for awareness about dog bites. “The patient should immediately wash the wound with soap and visit a hospital for vaccination. There are five doses that are compulsory for the victim. The first dose is administered on day of the dog bite, second after three days, third a week, fourth after two weeks and fifth after four weeks.” The doctor said the patients and their families should remember that there should be no negligence after an incident of dog bite, because there is no treatment of rabies.

However, an official of the dog bite center in Lahore said the second dose of the vaccine was not available in any hospital of the province. He said the hospitals referred the patients to Lahore after giving the first dose. He alleged that a mafia present at the dog bite center forced the patients to get vaccinated at outlets present nearby and the the medical stores charge up to Rs 7,000 for a dose.

The official said patients from across the province visited the center for treatment. “We should first control the population of stray dogs in Punjab. According to an estimate, there are around 450,000 stray dogs in Punjab that freely move in the streets of villages and cities,” said Dr Abdul Basit, former medical superintendent of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.

he situation in every province is similar and the people, especially children, are left exposed to the risk.

The provincial health department claims that it has taken the threat of rabies seriously and ensured that the vaccine was available in every hospital.

However, the revival of killing of stray dogs has put question mark on government policies.

Despite thousands of stray dogs being neutered to curtail their excessive population, Punjab’s residents have taken it upon themselves to get rid of strays – by inhumanely killing them.

Back in 2021, the Punjab government enacted a project to carry out vasectomy and vaccination of dogs; under this program, the killing of stray dogs was banned. At that time, a total of Rs 74 million was allocated for the project and 230,000 dogs were to be neutered and vaccinated in the province. However, only about 68,000 strays could be neutered. The government missed its targets in its campaign which has led to the residents resorting to inflicting violence on dogs. On the other hand, it was not missed targets which had resulted in the killings but verbal instructions from the Chief Secretary’s Office to all DCOs and Commissioners to control strays after a rise in dog bites that had resulted in the present situation.

However, animal rights activist Aneeza Khan Umarzai, while commenting on the grave situation, was of the view that the plan the government had formulated was itself flawed “regardless of why the killings have seen an uptick.” Umarzai was of the view that the government had laid down what they would do for the strays but did not indicate what punishments or penalties would be imposed on people who kill dogs.

Apart from the lack of clarity on the government’s part, Umarzai believes that the program failed to yield any significant results because of weak communication between departments. “It is the Lahore Metropolitan Corporation’s responsibility to catch stray dogs from the neighborhoods and release them back into their environment after the vasectomy and vaccination. But from what I know the concerned squad has been provided with only one vehicle in Lahore. Hence the failure,” she informed. Umarzai further said that neither the Livestock Department has any arrangements nor the Metropolitan Corporation has any facility to keep stray dogs under care for a few days after their operations.

Chief Officer, Lahore Metropolitan Corporation, Ali Abbas Bukhari, when asked about the department’s failure to control the strays leading to their eventual killing, said they were doing their best. “The responsibility of killing stray dogs was with the health department before but in 2021, the government entrusted this responsibility to us.” However, Bukhari conceded that the program had not gone according to plan. “Our staff has been trained to catch dogs and they have handed over hundreds of strays to livestock but the reality is that the project has not worked very well as we were short on funds,” he said.

Bukhari, when asked what sort of additional support would be required to make the project work, opined that a city like Lahore alone should have at least 12 teams and vehicles to catch the dogs and a proper surveillance team. “There is no doubt that more work needs to be done to control the population of stray effectively.”

Stray dog attacks are not a new phenomenon in Punjab. In May 2022, South Punjab Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) Captain (retd) Saqib Zafar submitted a report to the Chief Minister regarding the frequency of attacks, as well as negligence in dealing with the issue. The report stated that the Lodhran District Council Chief Officer (CO) had been negligent in pursuing action against dog attacks and ordered DC Lodhran to remove the CO from his post. That same month, several attacks were reported within the district. A two-and-a-half year old child was mauled to death by dogs in Lodhran, while he was headed to his aunt’s house. A similar incident was reported in Kot Addu, where a 10-year-old boy was mauled by dogs and sustained leg injuries. When the victim’s uncle complained to the dog’s owner, Tufail, he allegedly tortured the man. Separately, a 12-year-old boy was mauled to death by a pack of dogs in Dera Ghazi Khan in February 2022. At least six children were injured due to stray dog bites in a day in Bhakkar district. Local residents say that dozens of children attacked by stray dogs have been admitted to hospitals in the district in recent weeks. Incidents of dog bite have been reported from all the four tehsils of the district, including the city. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable to such attacks because of increasing number of stray dogs roaming in the streets. Initial instructions had been issued to protect the citizens but a vigorous campaign to clear Bhakkar of stray dogs would be launched after the Ashura holidays. The Deputy Commissioner said he himself would supervise the campaign and would not tolerate negligence in this regard by the government officials concerned.

However, a local resident said dozens of cases of bites by stray dogs had taken place in the area earlier, mostly affecting children and elderly people who were treated in various hospitals. He said that some stray dogs are killed in a locality where a major incident takes place and reports are submitted to the higher authorities but extensive action is not taken to solve the problem. He said the situation had not improved despite the changes in governments and officials appointed in the district.

The district councils are responsible to eliminate stray dogs in the province. According to sources, expensive medicines for the elimination of dogs are also issued to the relevant authorities.

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