Dog bite cases increase as Sindh govt campaign fizzles out

Last year’s celebrated campaign to spay, neuter and release stray dogs seems to have died a sudden death


Hafeez Tunio February 26, 2020

KARACHI: In November last year, following a sharp rise in dog bite cases, the Sindh local government department had launched a campaign to train staff to catch, vaccinate and sterilise dogs to curb the local stray dog population.

The campaign, which was launched from Central district in Karachi, was supposed to be replicated across Sindh with expectations of vaccinating over 500,000 stray dogs in various districts within a year. However, where plans were said to materialise the following year, the campaign hasn’t shown any progress after a single day of photo opportunities.

At the time the drive was launched, local government secretary Roshan Shaikh had disclosed his plans to the media to train municipal employees to humanely catch, neuter and release the stray dogs.

“We will administer them with rabies vaccines and tag each dog before releasing it in a particular area. Later, the municipal authorities will use the tags to locate the released dogs and sterilise them to keep the population from growing,” he had told reporters.

However, three months after its inception, there is nothing to show. The campaign, which now only exists on paper, has fizzled out without any updates, leaving rabid dogs to reign over the city of over 16 million.

Per statistics, more than 70 people, which mostly include children, fall prey to dog bites every day in Karachi. But specialists believe that the rabies virus, which transmits from animal to human contact, is fully preventable through proper medical care and timely vaccination.

Despite several attempts, Shaikh could not be contacted for his comments on the situation. However, according to a local government department spokesperson, there have been certain holdups on the part of higher authorities in releasing funds, which has been the main obstacle hindering the campaign. “The government has finally approved the project by establishing cells and offices in various districts and the sterilization process will be initiated at various hospitals,” he added.

Sources privy to the development informed The Express Tribune that the government, at the moment, lacks the expertise and human resources required to effectively sterilise the local dog population. “It is a very complicated process and sterilising a dog can take up to two weeks. The dog, be it male or female, must be kept under observation until their stitches are removed and the wounds have healed,” they explained.

As per a senior veterinary doctor who works with the government, there are many post-surgery complications when it comes to sterilising dogs.

“Even the rich, who keep their dogs in air-conditioned kennels with a staff of their own, face several difficulties in the healing of the post-surgical wounds. I am not sure how the government plans to deal with stray dogs in this case,” he wondered.

On the other hand, a senior official working in a local government department said that there is no need for a surgical procedure to sterilise the dogs and the entire process can be carried out through an injection.

“We will not remove the reproductive organs of the male dogs but will rather inject a vial in its reproductive glands to prevent it from reproducing. However, yes, female dogs will still have to undergo a surgical process in the absence of any alternative to removing their ovaries and uterus,” he said on conditions of anonymity.

According to government reports, over 186,579 people were attacked by stray dogs last year.

Following the hue and cry from the opposition and other quarters, the Sindh High Court took notice of the dog bite cases and directed the provincial government authorities to control the dog population using traditional methods of culling and poisoning.

However, several animal rights activists, members of civil society and environmentalists objected to the decision, deeming it inhumane and torturous.

Local government minister Nasir Hussain Shah disclosed that as per court orders, they have poisoned more than 34,000 dogs. “We are against the culling of dogs, therefore we are launching a project to instead control their population,” he said, while briefing the media.

However, a Karachi Municipal Corporation official said that the poison being given to the dogs is also substandard, which does not kill immediately. “This spurious poison takes over a few days to kill a dog, which often becomes violent in that time,” he said.

Haleem Adil Shaikh, the parliamentary leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the Sindh Assembly, said that the local government had allocated around Rs1 billion for the newly-conceived plan to control the dog population but the funds will once again be bungled.

“We have raised this issue several times in the assembly but the government is bent on using ad hoc measures rather than coming up with a permanent solution,” he said.

“The rabies prevention wards in all hospitals, including Indus Hospital, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital, have run out of capacity given the ongoing surge in rabies cases,” he concluded.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2020.

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