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July 23, 2010

Standing Up for Street Dogs in Baghdad and Beyond

In the United States, persistent euthanasia in shelters is the problem we all struggle to end. In developing countries, it is a different kind of killing—wholesale culling of dogs. Mass extermination campaigns are a grim and persistent reality throughout the world. And when authorities go looking for quick solutions to the perceived threat of rabies among strays, even overwhelming evidence showing that indiscriminate killing does no good often does not put the brakes on these plans.

Street dog
Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The most urgent case comes from Baghdad, where Iraqi authorities have shot or poisoned well over 50,000 canines in a campaign targeting the city’s estimated street dog population of 1.2 million. This week, my colleague Andrew Rowan of Humane Society International sent a letter to Iraq’s Ministry of Agriculture, encouraging an alternative to “shoot to kill” and “poison bait” policies. We’ve offered our advice and counsel to the city in an effort to redirect its approach to proven methods of population control and rabies suppression.

Andrew’s letter emphasized the tremendous gains being made with Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release programs, including the one we recently implemented in conjunction with the government of Bhutan, and those we’ve helped to introduce in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia—countries also coping with street dog overpopulation. These programs sterilize a large number of dogs, dramatically curb the overpopulation of street animals, and provide superb training opportunities for veterinary students and technicians, since each dog is given a quick checkup and vaccinated against rabies.

In any event, it’s clear that large-scale poisoning and shooting programs are not the answer. On the island of Bali, the recent outbreak of rabies has not abated despite an aggressive culling program that has killed around 100,000 dogs. Yet, in the two Bali regencies (districts) where a large-scale dog vaccination program was instituted, there have been no human rabies cases.

Among other consequences, poisoning and culling often causes dog owners to move their animals, spreading rabies still further. Vaccination, in contrast, maintains a stable local dog population and does not lead to the spreading of the disease. It is a strategy that comports with the best information and counsel provided by the World Health Organization, the leading source of expert knowledge on the topic.

Whether it’s a question of managing populations of wild horses on the range, pigeons in the city, or stray dog populations, there is a common theme: The humane solution is more elegant, more scientific, and more effective than the crude, violent, and indiscriminate killing.

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