Sometimes loved, mostly tolerated: Homeless dogs face cruelty all the timeA Kathmandu ward chair’s biting remarks raise questions about how to manage community canines that many say are a menace.
Earlier this week, at the sixth municipal executive meeting of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City, a ward chairperson made a biting remark against community dogs.
Taking special time to speak in the meeting, Dal Bahadur Karki, the chair of ward 30, said he has been searching for poison to kill stray dogs but he had yet to get it.
“I am ready to kill 2,500 dogs in a day. I can do it because earlier also I have killed stray dogs,” said Karki, adding that stray dogs are posing a big problem in his ward and creating inconvenience for the public, mostly during the night.
Karki’s statement comes amid Kathmandu Mayor Balendra Shah’s announcement to extend the Manumitra project, a stray dog management programme, to 12 months. The dog management campaign was introduced in 2016 but it has largely been ineffective.
In March 2016, the KMC had signed an agreement with the Humane Society International and the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal to manage street dogs within three years. For the same fiscal year, the City had allocated Rs35 million to control stray dog population through sterilisation.
At Sunday's meeting, many ward chairs said the Manumitra project was a failure and the City should seriously reconsider the issue of stray dog management.
That stray dogs are a menace has been a common refrain among city residents, but Karki’s statement on Sunday has ruffled quite some feathers.
Those working for the welfare of animals, including the canines, say killing dogs, like Karki suggested, is not a solution.
Many ward representatives who were present at Sunday’s meeting called Karki's remarks “inhumane” and said that such statements would send a wrong message to the public.
“This will send a wrong message to all the 77 districts, because there are more dog lovers,” said Ishwar Man Dangol, chairperson of ward 16 who is also the former spokesperson for the KMC, in response to Karki’s statement.
The Federation of Animal Welfare Nepal on Monday issued a press release, expressing grave concerns about Karki's statement and urged the authorities concerned to take action against him.
“Nepal itself is a member of the World Organisation for Animal Health but such an irresponsible statement from an elected representative is shameful,” it said.
Sneha Shrestha, president of the Federation, said her organisation has filed a case against Karki at Patan High Court in Lalitpur on Wednesday.
“Initially, we had planned to lodge a complaint with Nepal Police in Teku on Tuesday, but we were aware that he won’t come, so we decided to file a case in the court,” said Shrestha.
A hearing has been scheduled for Thursday.
Shrestha added that Karki himself has admitted he has killed dogs in the past and that is enough evidence to initiate action against him.
Dogs are said to be man's best friends, but the homeless canines often face cruelty at the hands of humans—in capital Kathmandu and other parts of the country.
In September 2019, a video of a tractor carrying scores of dogs—some dead and other semi-conscious—had made rounds on social media to widespread outrage. Then in April 2021, a video showing two men pummeling a dog too drew flak from animal rights activists.
Earlier, in January 2017, activists had protested in front of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal after dogs were shot dead at the Tribhuvan International Airport.
Sital Kaji Shrestha, president of the Nepal Veterinary Association, said the statement by the elected representative is condemnable, adding it is “not only irrational but barbaric.”
“Over two decades ago, many local bodies even used strychnine poisoning to tame street dogs,” said Shrestha, who is also the founder and general secretary of SAARC Regional Veterinary Association. “It was a big question to the whole human civilisation.”
He said the best way to control stray dogs is to implement animal birth control programmes and policies.
“The City can come up with a dog population management programme. For that we can provide technical assistance,” said Shrestha.
Although the KMC does not have the exact data, estimates suggest Kathmandu alone has over 24,000 stray dogs, according to Dangol, the former spokesperson at KMC.
A decade ago, the City had estimated its stray dog population at 26,000, and animal experts estimate that the number must have gone up.
According to Shrestha, the veterinarian, stray dog management is necessary also because it helps human health.
If dog-bite and rabies cases are going up, homeless canines should be managed in an effective way and killing them is not a solution, experts say.
Only with effective programmes and policies can the cases of dog-bite and rabies be reduced, according to Shrestha.
Nepal aims to eliminate dog-transmitted rabies by 2030, a target set by the World Health Organisation, but the government data show that dog-bite cases have been rising every year. As a result, the demand for anti-rabies vaccine has also increased.
In the fiscal year 2019-20, altogether 35,250 people throughout the country sought anti-rabies vaccines at state-run health facilities. The number of victims—mostly of dog attacks—rose to 56,619 in the fiscal year 2020-21. And the number of people who sought anti-rabies vaccine was 22,627 five years ago (in the fiscal year 2016-17).
Shrestha even criticised the City for spending over Rs20 million annually in the name of controlling stray dogs but failing to bring about any changes.
He said the best way to control the dog population is through castration and the City should start the drive immediately from its respective wards making an anti-rabies vaccination programme more effective.
“If the biggest municipality in the country doesn’t take any measures,” Shrestha said, “and elected representatives speak such nonsense, we can never manage street dogs.”