A stitch in time saves nineHow is it possible for puppies to survive when they live in neighbourhoods that want to get rid of them?
It’s that time of the year again. Winter is here and the sun-less hours are shivering cold. Yet there are puppies everywhere. Down the Ring Road from my house, there are at least four young mothers with litters, a total of thirty puppies. In a corner of Bhanimandal, three females have just given birth, that’s another fifteen. And the list goes on.
While dog mothers struggle to keep their litters alive, protecting them from cold weather, disease and accidents, the phones of animal welfare organisations ring 24/7. “I found a mother with nine puppies, what should I do?”
“My neighbours have thrown a bag of puppies nearby the river, please help!” “I picked up this sick puppy from the street, where do I go?”
It’s the worst season for dog lovers, and an overwhelming time for the animal agencies. Shelters are generally not the right place for puppies. They lack the resources for the intensive care puppies need and often get infected with diseases such as parvo or distemper, which can kill a puppy overnight. Puppies need to be supported on the street but is it possible when they live next to a busy road or in a neighbourhood that wants to get rid of them?
Over the past two decades, thousands of puppies have gone through my care and all of them were unique, with their own looks, character, likes and dislikes. Nepal’s mixed breed puppies are handsome, smart and loyal and a delight to have around.
Yet in reality, mixed breed puppies tend to be regarded as dispensable objects. Over the past years we have seen two trends. The first is a growing obsession with foreign breeds. Excessive, unregulated breeding has led to a situation where ‘high value’ puppies can be bought on almost every street corner. The Nepali mixed breed has literally become worthless. Ironically some traders do understand the value of a handsome Nepali dog. They smuggle them across the border to Bihar, where they are sold as ‘Himalayan Breed’. This shows the futility of the dog breed debate.
At the same time a new generation of genuine animal lovers is emerging. These youths grew up watching Animal Planet and National Geographic, or have been exposed to animal welfare practices when travelling abroad. To add to these two trends, people have a genuine concern about dog bites, rabies and noise pollution. It is in this conflicting scenario that thousands of canine newborns see the light this season. And many will wonder: what to do about those puppies?
The good news is that a long term solution is already in place: Animal Birth Control (ABC). Sterilising and vaccinating dogs is a one-time intervention that can effectively reduce the number of dogs as well as disease and behavioural problems. ABC is relatively inexpensive: the medicine costs alone come to over Rs 1500 per dog. In order to obtain a long term reduction in numbers at least 75 percent of females in an area should be spayed within a period of five years. This is one of the reasons why most municipalities in Nepal opt for a cheap and fast ‘solution’: poisoning.
Apart from being cruel and dangerous, poisoning is not effective. Animals have developed a counter strategy and reproduce according to the carrying capacity of the environment. This means that as long as there is garbage, survivors move in and produce more babies. And if it isn’t the dogs, other species such as rats or mice will move in. Evidence suggests the Surat plague of 1994, in India, killing 52 and causing a quarter of the population to flee the city, was the outcome of a dog killing campaign. Rodents took over the streets, spreading disease.
ABC was introduced in Nepal by the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre (KAT) in the mid 90s, followed by Animal Nepal in 2009. With Bhaktapur Animal Welfare Society (BAWS) snipping dogs from this year, there are now three major humane dog management programmes in the Kathmandu Valley. Smaller ones operate in Kapan and Ichhanghu. From Pokhara, the Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust (HART) reaches out to Kavre, Chitwan and other districts. One cannot be thankful enough to these agencies; research shows that the dog population within the Ring Road area has stabilised and in some places decreased dramatically.
Are you concerned about the plight of puppies? Then the best thing to do is first make sure your own pets are fixed (many stray dogs are in fact discarded pets or their offspring) and second to get the dogs in your neighbourhood spayed and vaccinated. If the shelter cannot send its ambulance, consider taking the dogs yourself. This will bring an immediate improvement in your area. More needs to be done of course, such as community education and treatment of sick and injured dogs, but population control is an important first step.
It has been estimated that one female dog and her off spring can produce 67,000 puppies in just six years. Next time you see a mother dog with some little ones on the road remember there is something you can do, right now.
Lucia is a journalist and co-founder of Animal Nepal