Controlling rabies: No, you cannot just 'shoot stray dogs at sight'

We spend thousands of rupees treating dog bites. How about we donate a tenth of the amount and help make dog shelters?

Karim Khan November 25, 2012
Reading a recent blog by Sakina Kavi, entitled Don’t let the dogs out at the University of Karachi on The Express Tribune, I feel it’s time to draw people's attention to the fundamental cause of stray dog bites and fear of rabies resulting from them.

Being an animal rights activist, I appreciate the writer’s spirit and call for refraining from killing dogs as if wiping away pest. However, I do not agree with her suggestion of shooting stray dogs on site.

This is inhumane and any animal rights activist will tell you this.

In the first place, we must distinguish between a rabid dog and a stray dog. A stray dog is a homeless dog – one that does not have a home to live in with a human family and hence lives (has to live, to be precise) on the streets.

Not all stray dogs are rabid; majority of them are healthy and free of infection, though they often look dirty and haggard due to lack of any grooming hand. Most stray dogs are peaceful, gentle creatures. If that hadn’t been so, every second or third person around us would be rushing to the hospital to get treated for a dog bite.

In my entire life of over 35 years, I have not been bitten or approached aggressively by a single stray dog. At the same time, pet dogs may well be carriers of the rabies virus. That’s why you should vaccinate them properly while raising them, just like you should vaccinate kids to make sure they don’t get or spread infections.

Now, talking of stray dogs, since you don’t know which stray dogs are rabid (and since humans make an overly anxious species that would shoot at its own shadow if nothing else), it is better to educate yourself a little about dogs and watch for signs of a rabid dog.

If a dog is suspected to be rabid, it needs to be quarantined, for a few weeks to a few months usually, to ascertain whether it actually is rabid. If it is, it will develop the disease during quarantine. If it turns out rabid, it will be euthanised. And when I say euthanised, I am not talking about shooting, gassing, poisoning, or other such methods which ignorant people think are the better options.

Euthanasia is performed at an animal control facility by a vet who will first anesthetise the dog (make it unconscious, so it doesn’t feel the pain) and then give a lethal injection. This is relatively painless. Killing a dog while it is conscious is a brutal act and does not qualify for euthanasia.

Sadly, most people who suddenly get worried about stray dogs and the problems they cause don’t find enough time or care to address the root cause of this problem, namely over breeding and lack of careful management. In fact, careful management alone covers the eradication of rabies as well as any other “phobic problems” that are more the imagination of people than reality.

Over breeding is the most fundamental cause of having homeless dogs. It, in turn, results from poor management of the dog population. We have puppy mills everywhere owned by breeders who sell puppies to people. These profiteers are not concerned with the well-being of pups that don’t get sold for not getting selected (maybe for being weak, or of not the right colour, and so on) by customers, ultimately ending up on streets as strays.

Also, in the third world, the concept of spaying/neutering is shockingly absent. Neither the government nor people are concerned with spaying or neutering stray dogs to avoid the tragic fate of their litter that would ultimately be poisoned while suffering a lifelong torture on streets – beaten, run over, and getting infected with all kinds of illnesses.

Though in the west, there are numerous animal sanctuaries or dog shelters, in countries like Pakistan, these facilities are nearly nowhere. We only have municipalities that know how to poison dogs, which is cruel and senseless. Spending a little on creating shelters where dogs may be kept, neutered or spayed, and vaccinated, the problem of stray dogs can be solved humanely for good, not to say the job opportunities created by such an initiative for humans as vets and caregivers.

Still, how many animal shelters do we have? Do we have a single dog rescue that specifically works for saving stray dogs from getting abused, infected or killed? We can spend thousands on treating our family members bitten by a stray dog. Can we not donate a tenth of that money to create dog shelters so that there won’t be any stray dogs, and hence no fear of getting a potentially fatal disease?

Dogs are intelligent, pan-sensitive, and loyal life forms. Treating them as pests only shows how badly humans have failed at valuing and protecting life. No wonder we live in a world where a brother slits the throat of his own brother, spilling his own blood.

With this scene in which we find ourselves, many amongst us frequently trash the notion of caring for dogs as they are considered something low and unworthy. But I am convinced that if we learn to respect the low, the unworthy, we won’t even think of hurting the precious. To save life, you need to respect it at the lower end first. Let’s save ourselves by saving the voiceless!

Read more by Karim here.
Karim M Khan

The writer is based in Gilgit-Baltistan. 
He can be reached at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.