One of the animals heavily associated with human beings is the dog. Humans and dogs began to walk together (with the taming of wild dogs) about 6,500 years ago. Early cavemen needed dogs only as hunting aids. But today, the interdependence of dogs and humans alleviates loneliness in many ways, and bears benefits such as ensuring the dog owner’s safety.
The practice of keeping dogs as domestic pets in Bangladesh is not very old though. Most of the dogs in this country are basically stray dogs. A research study found that there are 52 or more dogs per square kilometre in the country. And general people are familiar with most of these dogs as animals that attack each other, bite people and cause unnecessary noise etc. As a result, people perceive dogs as a nuisance and a threat.
To that end, killing or injuring dogs is commonplace, turning a law against the inhumane treatment of dogs somewhat ineffective. The Parliament has passed the Animal Welfare Act 2019, the old Animal Welfare Act of 1920 by increasing the punishment.
The updated Act outlines stricter penalties for any kind of mistreatment or harm done to animals, including dogs, such as six months to two years in jail. However, neither did killing or torture of dogs come to an end, nor is it going to stop, despite the fact that a large number of people sympathise with dogs.
People’s negative perception of dogs is mostly unfounded, because dogs never attack people unnecessarily. Dogs only bite humans when they are cornered and/or attacked by humans or infected by a disease called ‘rabies’.
Also, a dog’s temperament is likely to be unfriendly at certain times, like male dogs are very excited during the breeding season. After giving birth, female dogs become hypersensitive to protecting their cubs. In order to protect her young, she often bites intruders in her space. Also, when there’s a lack of food, dogs become aggressive. Additionally, dogs barking or playing with each other (sometimes aggressively) is considered annoying by us, although it is normal behaviour among dogs.
The rabies factor
The killing of dogs was made legal by identifying them as carriers of rabies.
Most people, in the world, who die of rabies are infected by dogs because dogs come into contact with humans more often than other animals, and are more likely to transmit rabies to humans. Throughout Asia and Africa, countless people, especially children and adolescents, are infected by this disease.
Dogs are the worst victims of rabies attacks. In rural parts of the world, goats, sheep and sometimes even calves are attacked by dogs, resulting in the death of the animal directly due to rabies infection, which exposes the marginal farmer to financial loss. When dairy cows are attacked, it leads to a loss in milk production and increases operational costs.
There’s no effective treatment for rabies. The only hope is to vaccinate the animals – the potential carriers. But in underdeveloped regions, it is usually not possible to save most of the infected people and animals due to inadequate vaccination. And since humans are primarily infected with this virus through dogs, therefore a kind of fear of dogs works in the human mind. As a result, dogs are often injured, maimed or killed.
However, a permanent solution to canine rabies lies in the en masse vaccination of dogs against rabies. Many developed and less developed countries have already declared themselves free from rabies.
With the aim of making Bangladesh free of rabies, the Mass Dog Vaccination (MDV) programme is underway under the initiative of the Ministry of Health. But even vaccinated dogs are not putting a stop to the killing of dogs. One of the main reasons for this could be the uncontrolled breeding of stray dogs.
During the breeding season, the number of dog attacks increases, so the demand by people to relocate dogs is quite normal. A few years ago, due to the problems caused by an excessive number of dogs in the Jatiya Sangsad area, the parliamentary committee recommended the Dhaka North City Corporation relocate dogs, according to media reports. Additionally, Dhaka South City Corporation also planned to relocate 30,000 dogs from Dhaka city outside Dhaka.
But killing or relocating dogs is not a solution.
Are there solutions to this problem?
The only scientific way to reduce this number of dogs is birth control and for this, there is an established method worldwide, called ‘CNVR’ which means ‘Capture dog’, ‘Neuter or infertility’, ‘Vaccination of rabies’ and ‘Release.’ In this process, the dog is sterilized by surgical removal of certain parts of its reproductive organs after being captured from its habitat, at a specific hospital. Later, the dog is vaccinated against rabies and rehabilitated to its previous habitat. An NGO called Obhoyaronno’ in Bangladesh has been doing such work in Dhaka city for a long time.
In 2019, under the supervision of Dr Mohammad Rashedul Alam, a Professor of Physiology and Animal Welfare at Chittagong Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, the ‘CNVR’ programme to sterilize and vaccinate all dogs on the university campus was launched (reported by the Dainik Purbakone on 31 October 2019). Thirty-two dogs from the campus and its surroundings are periodically brought to the animal hospital where the dogs are kept in continuous care cages for five days after the sterilization operation is done under the expert surgical team.
In addition to providing necessary food and water during this time, analgesic, antihistamine and antibiotic injections are given to the dog. On the sixth day, after the health check-up, the dog is moved to its own home after receiving the parasiticide and vaccination.
However, while such isolated activities may eliminate rabies and control the number of dogs in certain areas, it isn’t possible to carry out drives like this in the entire country. Therefore, the only way to implement this process across the country is through the combined efforts of the Department of Animal Husbandry, the Department of Health, the Veterinary University, the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Agriculture and the local government by appointing enough veterinary surgeons in all the metropolitan cities and district towns of the country.
Through implementation of the phased ‘Denumeration and Vaccination’ programme in villages along with the proper implementation of existing laws, people can be made aware of the rights, behaviour and laws of dogs. Moreover, population control and the welfare of stray dogs can be ensured.
After all, by freeing animals from rabies infection, Bangladesh can take a step to advance animal health, and in effect, human health too.
Minhazur Rahman Shihab is a student at the Institute of Forestry and Environmental Sciences of Chittagong University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.