Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 12 February 2012





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Towards a rabies-free Sri Lanka

The bond between man and dog has its beginnings running back 12-14 millennia to somewhere in Eurasia where a reciprocal relationship between the two emerged.

Since the news item ‘Sri Lanka targets three million dogs for mass cull’ was published, much activity has been seen among animal lovers and animal welfare groups. Many newspaper articles have also been published in this regard.

Killing of dogs under the Rabies Ordinance introduced by the British rulers 100 years ago was stopped by Local Government authorities, since President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ‘No kill policy’ was introduced in 2006.

As per the statistics released by the Ministry of Health, over 2,000 people receive the human rabies vaccine daily. In 2011 over 397,825 people were treated in government hospitals for hydrophobia (human rabies) and 49 died of the disease.

Over 80 percent of the funds on rabies control programs in the past were spent on the importation of human vaccine. It is now believed that the best way to reduce the stray dog menace and the spread of rabies is through a sterilisation and vaccination program, popularly known as ABC-AR (Animal Birth Control-Anti Rabies).

Sri Lanka has all the regulations to suit the nation, but these are not followed properly. When someone owns a dog, he or she is faced with a legal responsibility as well as a moral one. Generally, keeping dogs does not present problems to the public, unless the owners allow it to become a nuisance by letting their dogs stray. If all dog owners and officials behaved in a responsible manner, then the problem of stray dogs (the main cause) would be reduced to a minimum.

Laws around the world

Stray dogs roaming the streets

Historically, a charge for keeping dogs as pets was first levied in Britain as far back as 1796, to raise revenue. In general, different countries have different laws. In the UK every dog at the age of four months, has to be registered with the local authority. In the USA, laws regulating dog ownership are so many and so complex that each state has the power to regulate its own law pertaining to dog ownership.

In China rabies is the top infectious disease, ahead of TB and HIV/AIDS. China has the second highest case of rabies in the world, next to India. The registration of dog ownership licence in China was reduced from 5,000 Yuan (US$ 600) to 1,000 Yuan (US$ 120) in 2003. Large breeds of dogs are prohibited there and one family can own only one dog.

If caught with unregistered dogs, owners will be fined from 2,000 Yuan onwards (US$ 240).

In Singapore too, large breeds are prohibited. Every dog over three months has to be registered at a cost of 14 Singapore dollars (Rs. 1,200). In Japan the animal protection law (1973) is primarily signed to protect people from animals and not the other way around.

In Sri Lanka the registration of dogs was first introduced in 1901. The ratification of the law was last done in 1961.

According to the Ordinance (7), “The occupier of any house or premises where any dog or dogs are kept or permitted to live or remain, shall be liable to pay the registration fees for such dog or dogs, (To any Municipal council, Urban Council and Pradeshiya Sabha in the area according to their rates) and in default of such payments shall be liable to penalties incurred by persons keeping unregistered dogs, unless the said occupant can prove the satisfaction of the magistrate.”

Ordinance (4) also provides that the concerned authority to do the job is the Local Authority (Municipal Council, Urban Council and Pradeshiya Sabha).

Community dogs and stray dogs

Dogs should be vaccinated against rabies

In Sri Lanka there is a large number of roaming dogs, at least half of them with owners. Most of these dogs live in packs and are either fed by their owners or scavenge in the neighbourhood. These dogs can bite passers-by, while trying to mate or fighting among themselves.

Pedestrians are usually bitten by aggressive strays or dogs roaming with puppies. The roaming dog and rabies menace is attributed to reasons such as the local authorities failing to enforce the Registration of Dogs Act, and flexible rules such as unleashed dogs in public, dumping of puppies in public places, rabies vaccination not made mandatory and garbage disposal by local authorities.

In urban and town areas, the poor garbage disposal system and the presence of chicken stalls, small butcher shops and market places and poor disposal of hotel and hospital waste are the main reasons for the presence of a large number of places where these strays could be noticed.

Poor garbage disposal and bad solid waste management by the Local Authorities are other reasons for the presence of stray and roaming dogs. Differentiating the community dogs and stray dogs has become an important issue in eradicating the rabies problem.

It is time animal welfare activists identified the difference between community dogs and stray dogs. A dog attack is a terrifying ordeal. Often children become victims of dog bites. The lacerating wound in a dog bite is very painful, may even need surgical treatment and could result in permanent damage.

A dog bite wound

Even more than that, the pain and suffering, especially the emotional suffering by the victim and family is stressful. Rabies in humans is 100 percent fatal once the disease is manifested. The suffering of a human rabies victim, shown in a YouTube Video, is self-explanatory as to why we need a rabies-free Sri Lanka. Therefore, it's time we differentiate a community dog and a stray dog and the latter issue tackled properly.

Animal birth control

It is believed that in the world 55,000 people die of human rabies of which 36 percent occur in India. A study by the World Health Organisation in India has shown that the Anti Rabies Program (ABC-AR) conducted in Chennai and Bangalore compared to the earliest catch and kill procedure conclusively shows the success and feasibility of the former in controlling street dogs and incidences of human rabies. The number of deaths due to rabies in Chennai in 1996 was 120 which gradually decreased to five in 2003 due to the successful ABC-AR program.

The ‘catch and kill’ policy to eradicate rabies in our country has never been successful from British days. Most local authorities in the past had not been comfortable using the Rabies Ordinance (4) (All strays to be seized) to round-up strays and destroy them.

The recent sterilisation and vaccination program by the Ministry of Health and other Animal Welfare Organisations have failed due to poor understanding among the people who have undertaken this project and will continue it.

Rabies and the stray dog menace can be controlled in a much better way if the following suggestions are considered:-

*Registration and licensing of all dogs with immediate effect by the Local Authorities under the Registration of Dogs Act 1961 (All dogs over six months to be registered).

*Make annual rabies vaccination compulsory before the registration of dogs by the local authority.

*Domestic dogs to be leashed in public; and letting dogs loose in public made a punishable offence.

*Local bodies to set up ABC-AR (sterilisation and vaccination) programs throughout Sri Lanka simultaneously.

*The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Livestock and Ministry of Local Government should get together and form an advisory board to formulate a foolproof program and policy on rabies control.

*The problem of stray dogs around public market places and hospitals to be dealt with humanely.

Unless such suggestions are taken into consideration, the millions of rupees spent on rabies eradication will never bring results.

(The writer is a Veterinary Surgeon and is Chairman, Hatton-Dickoya Urban Council)



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