PESHAWAR: There are tens of millions of free-roaming stray dogs all over the world that don’t belong to anyone. And while they might not have owners, that doesn’t keep them away from chasing or attacking people.
The scenes are similar. Packs of strays lurk in bazaars, guard alleyways, and street corners, forcing pedestrians to carry sticks to scare them away, and those on motorcycles, to fill their pockets with stones to keep the chasers away. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where more than 1,000 people reported attacks in the past two months, street dogs pose a threat to everyone, including a vast number of children. Animal welfare workers believe that each stray gives birth to several pups, who then multiply. According to the activists, the absence of canine contraceptive vaccination drives leads to more strays on the streets.
“No one in the province is paying attention to the growing issue of stray animals, even while it does not require millions,” said Zeba Masood, who now runs an animal shelter in the provincial capital. “Shooting stray dogs is not the solution. We only need measures to control the population of strays,” said Masood.
Health experts at Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar’s oldest medical facility, believe dog bites can be deadly. “Deep dog bites can cause rabies which can lead to death if the animal is not vaccinated,” said Dr Akheer Jan.
Rabies, a lethal disease, enters the human body at the time of a dog bite. After entering the human body, the deadly virus travels toward the brain. Once it reaches the brain, it causes salivation and convulsions.
“In most cases, after symptoms appear, death becomes inevitable,” said Dr Jan.” But in some cases, he said a series of shots, given before symptoms appear, can stop the virus in its tracks. Animal welfare experts believe authorities should concentrate on spaying and neutering campaigns, instead of mass culling drives in province.
Cost and control
In July this year, more than 350 dog bite victims checked into hospitals across the province in Peshawar, Mardan, Charsadda, Nowshera, Khyber district, Mohmand, and Shabqadar. Another 380 checked into Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar for treatment.
While these free-roaming canines proliferate across the province, benefiting from the absence of a policy to deal with the issue, citizens continue to pay the price for the government’s inaction.
“The cost of treatment for a minor dog bite is over Rs3,000,” said Amjad, who hails from Najoi, a suburb in the provincial capital.
A few months ago, Amjad’s daughter was bitten by a stray. “The government should vaccinate stray dogs and launch sterilization campaigns,” he urged. While officials continue to ignore the issue, activists like Zeba Masood, cruise around the city, taking dogs to the shelter for vaccinations and sterilizations.
But in a city like Peshawar, where every neighbourhood has its stray residents, charities alone cannot solve the problem.
Veterinarians suggest that sterilization and vaccination would make strays less dangerous around humans. Globally, 60,000 people die every year from stray dog bites.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, most of the deaths occur in Africa and Asia because of rabies.
Despite the odds stacked against them, animal welfare activists like Masood still reject mass culling of strays. Her small animal welfare venture plans to launch a new campaign to address the growing issue of Peshawar’s untamed canine population.
“We plan to launch a new campaign called the Trap-Neuter and Relief program (TNR). It has been successfully tested in Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Malaysia,” Masood added.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2019.