Luck For Strays in Bhutan
The poverty-struck Asian country of Bhutan, size-wise similar to Switzerland, has about 52.000 stray dogs (estimate 2015). Over the last nine years, the international animal welfare organisation Humane Society International (HSI) has managed to vaccinate and neuter around 65% of these animals. They have now stopped their extensive vaccination campaign, nevertheless, there is still the need to continue treating the animals to ensure that the population doesn’t yet again increase in size. With the support from the Welttierschutzgesellschaft, the local organisation Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (RSPCA) was not only able to keep neutering and caring for the dogs living in the capital and ensure the coordination of a national population control but also educate and sensitise the animal welfare activists of tomorrow on the stray dogs’ needs.
Often unknown to tourists, the kingdom of Bhutan is located right between Central and South Asia. With a population of 750.000 people, the country is located between China and India along the well-known mountains of the Himalayas. According to statistics, it is one of the poorest countries in the world. It became better known back in 1974, when the king declared that specified happiness indices and his so-called “gross national happiness concept” have priority over economic growth.
There are around 17.000 stray dogs in the country’s capital Thimpu. In comparison to the rest of the country, this is by far the highest ratio of stray dogs that live in one place. Although a lot of animals were reached through the above-named measures by HSI, to reach a long-term healthy dog population you need to keep the rate of vaccinations and spays constant. To ensure this happens, local vets are planning to vaccinate and spay 2.000 additional dogs within the next two years. They are focusing on especially shy and aggressive animals that require a lot of patience to catch as well as young and pregnant animals. Due to the existing animal shelter struggling, especially those pregnant animals and youngsters have been mainly ignored during the latest castration campaigns and were able to continue to reproduce.
In order to prevent the spread of rabies and other diseases transmitted by dogs, the government followed the recommendation of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 1990s and tried to minimise the stray population by targeted killings. The founder of our partner organisation Royal Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (RSPCA) Bhutan then went on to talk to the mayor of the capital Thimpu and convinced him that neutering and vaccination is a more animal-friendly and effective alternative.
The renovation of the shelter has managed to fill this gap. Thanks to the construction of additional housing facilities, pregnant females can now stay at the shelter until the puppies are old enough and get spayed right after. Once de-wormed and vaccinated, she is released back into her original territory. The puppies find a new home with animal lovers in the country. Once they reach the age of three months, they are also spayed, vaccinated and de-wormed. The shelter additionally now has an updated quarantine section for sick and hurt animals. Prior to the renovations, this part of the shelter was in need of serious renovations and was not able to hold any dogs which made working here even more difficult.
Stray dogs that need veterinary help are treated and get the chance to recover. The animals are either picked up from the streets by employees of the RSPCA or they are brought there by animal lovers. As soon as their state of health allows, they are neutered, vaccinated and dewormed and released back in their territory. Particularly serious cases - old, handicapped or sick animals - are rehomed or get a place at the stray animal centre until the end of their lives.
(Thanks to the public animal clinics the rest of the country is also able to continue spaying and vaccinating the dogs against rabies. As the most important partner of the government when it comes to animal welfare issues, the RSPCA is also part of the coordination of this country-wide population control)
The animal conservationists of tomorrow
Thanks to a newly introduced school program – the so-called animal lovers club – children are now taught about, and sensitised to, animal welfare in the whole country. This will ensure better welfare for the animals in the long run. In school, the kids become more aware of the needs of pets and stray dogs as well as the need to spay. Following this, the theoretical knowledge is implemented through various activities, such as excursions to the dog shelter. The students are additionally able to get involved voluntarily at the shelter. This has been of interest to the public before: 30 children were already helping with feeding and walking the dogs and other small tasks. To also educate the rest of the country on the need of rabies vaccinations and spaying, information material is distributed all over.