Find humane ways to control canine population

The unethical and inhumane practice of dog culling must be stopped and alternative methods must be implemented, writes Eizza Asad

Find humane ways to control canine population
Pakistan has one of the highest populations of stray dogs worldwide - around 2.5 million according to the National Institute of Health. Their presence is often seen as a cultural phenomenon and a characteristic of Pakistani streets. From urban settlements like Bahria Town and DHA all the way to rural settlements in places like Okara, strays in Pakistan are found in every street and corner and have coexisted with people for a long time. This has often allowed them to become part of local communities, where they are able to find food, shelter and live peaceful lives. While this might sound like an ideal living environment for these voiceless canines, it is often not. In fact, around 50,000 stray dogs are killed every year in Pakistan through large scale mass culling (the process of killing animals in order to reduce their numbers) which is done through inhumane and cruel methods involving shooting and poisoning.

The idea behind this government backed practice is to keep the stray population under control and prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies. While these are valid concerns (according to a local English daily, around 10,886 cases of dog bites were reported in Karachi in 2019) and cause immense pain and suffering, the practice of culling of dogs is not only inhumane and cruel but also ineffective. Culling has been practiced in Pakistan for decades but has failed to produce any significant result or protect people from the very things it was supposed to. By October 2020, around 116,000 dogs were culled as compared to 34,000 in December 2019. However, dog bites and rabies cases have been on the rise in the last decade, especially in Sindh.
Such methods have proven to be extremely fruitful in countries such as Brazil and Turkey where diseases such as rabies and stray population is well under control

According to experts, the solution lies in a systematic, organized, large-scale, government backed process of vaccination, treatment, and sterilization of the canine population that not only reduces their number in a humane and civilized way but also prevents the spread of harmful diseases. These methods are internationally established and effective. On the other hand, culling is an easy way out which requires the least amount of expenditure and work, and the Pakistani government, as in all other matters, tends to take the easy way out. The culling epidemic of Pakistan is a classic example of our government’s lack of capability and efficiency. The practice itself is organized and executed as ineffectively and unsystematically as the government itself.

Dogs are cruelly killed without taking into account factors such as whether they are vaccinated, neutered, or harmful at all which shows that culling is carried out blindly and without any rules and regulations. A recent example of this is of a harmless, vaccinated, rescued pet dog named ‘Laado’ who was shot five times by DHA police in front of its owner’s family without any prior warning.

One of the most effective ways of controlling the stray population is large scale adoption, fostering, and sheltering of dogs by the public. However, dogs in Pakistan are generally considered impure and unclean due to religious views which contributes greatly to the low rates of their domestication. This is followed by an even greater avoidance of stray dogs – a trend influenced by the preference of pedigreed dogs over strays. Furthermore, a lack of awareness on both governmental and public level contributions towards the notion that culling is justified and necessary. It can therefore be safe to say that there is a general lack of empathy for dogs in Pakistani culture which allows for such cruel practices to continue without any large scale public outcry. A recent example includes the unnecessary euthanization of two pet dogs after they attacked a person due to the owner’s negligence who then reached an agreement with the aggrieved party to put the dogs down. The inability of both the parties to come up with an alternative (such as rehabilitation or training) and resorting directly to killing shows the general lack of care for animal rights.

The unethical and inhumane practice of dog culling must be stopped and alternative methods must be implemented. These include WHO recommended ABC (Animal Birth Control) and TNVR (Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release) campaigns which focus on mass sterilization and vaccination of strays before releasing them back into the society. The government should cooperate with and promote local NGOs and agencies (such as ACF animal rescue foundation Karachi and Todd’s welfare society Lahore) working tirelessly towards controlling the stray population through humane and internationally accepted methods and implement those methods themselves on a national level. Implementation of aforementioned methods has proved to be extremely fruitful in countries such as Brazil and Turkey where diseases such as rabies and stray population is well under control. Furthermore, countries like Mexico and Sri Lanka have successfully eliminated rabies through MDV (Mass Dog Vaccinations). Adoption of strays should also be encouraged and investments should be made in large scale private and governmental shelters and rescue homes for dogs. A large number of organizations such as RPF (Rabies Free Pakistan) have successfully administered rabies vaccines and completed large scale sterilization campaigns. Furthermore, the Sindh government has allocated PKR 1.07 billion towards eliminating rabies while the Lahore High Court in a recent case has condemned the culling of dogs. While there has been some improvement in recent times with more awareness and public outcry, there is still a lot of work to be done.