No cyanide but a little bit of love and sterility
By Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne and Vidushi Seneviratne
We thought cyanide is about the LTTE.

The existing system demands that the dogs be put down, to stop the breeding process, by using Cyanide and Strychnine, states the Kandy Association for Community Protection through Animal Welfare. "These substances are injected into the dogs and cause an excessively painful death," says KACPAW.

Dog pound shuffle

They are supposed to be our best friends, but the number of ownerless dogs we encounter on the roads seems to grow by the minute...

The KACPAW programme will bring stray dogs to a center, sterilise, tag, vaccinate, de-worm and treat them for any other disorders, in a more humane way (details below), and then release them (with collars round their necks) to the locality that they were initially found in. Since dogs are territorial creatures, new stray dogs will not establish themselves in these areas.

Dr. Niranjala de Silva, the Head of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Studies, at the University of Peradeniya, agrees that it is this method that would prove the most effective in curbing the stray dog population in the country. "The sterilisation programme that we carry out is a hysterectomy on the bitches. This can be conducted if they are older than four months."

The problem and fear of stray dogs lie in the fact that these dogs are the main carriers of Rabies, which is a viral disease affecting the central nervous system of humans. The disease could seep into humans and thereby endanger lives through a simple bite or a tiny scratch made by a rabid dog. Rabies once contracted is incurable. But it is preventable.

A sterilization operation in progress

Sadly though, Rabies is not given the attention that it warrants. Whilst 54 people died of Dengue last year, 83 died of Rabies.

Rabies can be eradicated by a simple injection given to all dogs on a yearly basis. Yet, due to the growing number of stray dogs on our streets what would once have been a possible exercise has now assumed impossible proportions.

A Five Year National Health Plan for Effective Eradication of Human Rabies has been prepared by the Ministry of Health, The Sri Lanka Veterinary Association and the Kandy Association for Community Protection through Animal welfare. The objective of this plan is to ensure a Rabies Free status in Sri Lanka by 2007.

KACPAW itself has also formulated three programmes, which once conducted concurrently will achieve a Rabies free or near Rabies free state. The three programmes being Stray Animal Birth Control, Responsible Pet Ownership and the Re-homing of forsaken dogs.

The objective of the first programme is to eliminate Rabies through the more effective and humane method of disrupting the life cycle of dogs by means of sterilisation. Dr. S. R. Jayasinghe of the Veterinary Department of the Kandy Municipal Council agrees with this and has officially put a stop to the usage of substances such as killer cyanide within the Kandy Municipality Limits.

One of the fundamental features of stray animal birth control is that it does not require the killing of dogs to achieve a Rabies free state. The Animal Birth Control programme is to be initially conducted in areas coming within the Kandy Municipal Council and the adjacent areas, together with the KMC and the Provincial Council with the guidance and co-operation of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).

The programme also hopes to vaccinate all stray dogs. "The dogs vaccinated during the course of this year will be identified with the use of a red collar during the course of this year. By doing so they will not be caught by the dogcatchers and be impounded in a dog shelter. This collar will also identify the dogs that have to be re-vaccinated next year."

They also hope to re-home these dogs. "It is us humans who have domesticated the animal, and they are now unable to do without us. What most of us do is buy highly pedigreed dogs. But what we fail to realise is that the so-called stray dogs or Sri Lankan dogs are actually better suited to our country. They live longer, healthier, happier lives," says the Treasurer of KACPAW. "That is why we believe in re-homing the dogs."

There are signs that the public is interested. Vasantha Kumara from Matale had dropped in to have a sterilisation operation done on one of his dogs when he spotted another stray puppy being brought in for re-homing. The new puppy went back to Matale with him. The fact that there is no fear of breeding helps with the distribution of bitches though the general preference is for males.

Two dogs, after being sterilised, vaccinated and de-wormed, were handed over to the Department of Agriculture at the University of Peradeniya. These community dogs are now part and parcel of the department.

Aktive Tierschutzgruppe Salez is a Swiss organisation that looks into the well being of one of the shelters in Kandy. The Gohakande Shelter was in a bad state when Edith Zellweger came to Sri Lanka on holiday. On seeing the state of the shelter, she, together with Rohini de Silva, approached the Municipality and took over the shelter. It has now been made into a safehouse for stray dogs. The shelter also provides sterilisation and vaccination programmes for its 18 inmates.

The plans have already been implemented in the precincts of the Kandy Municipal Council. The feasibility of the programme is yet to be observed but from what we witnessed this may be the solution to a problem that has been plaguing us for years.

Control methods
Kandy Association for Community Protection through Animal Welfare (KACPAW) is a non-profit making NGO which was established in January 1999. KACPAW is involved in providing free sterilisation and rabies vaccination clinics as an alternative, more effective and humane method of Rabies control.

KACPAW also organised a conference together with WSPA on 'Humane Stray Dog Control' which was held on September 7-8, in Kandy. This was held in order to formulate the five-year plan for the eradication of Rabies from Sri Lanka.

Rabies is prevalent in 116 countries including Sri Lanka. In the United Kingdom, Rabies was eradicated 100 years ago. More recently it was eradicated from Malaysia. This indicates that the basic preventive methods are sufficient to eradicate rabies and that high cost technology is certainly not required for this purpose.

A fearful disease
There are two main types of Rabies that have been isolated. The Furious Type and the Paralytic Type. These begin with non-specific symptoms like fever, loss of appetite, increased secretions, anxiety and irritability. More specific symptoms like pain and numbness could be present at the site of the wound.

Patients with Aggressive Rabies exhibit hydrophobia - a fear of water. They are unable to consume water. Consumption can lead to spasms. In instances of the paralytic type, paralysis dominates. Whatever the pattern, the disease eventually progresses to complete paralysis, coma and then death.

Rising numbers
A pair of dogs and their offspring can give rise to an estimated 67,000 dogs in 6 years. KACPAW also says that for the past 50 years 100,000 dogs were killed in Sri Lanka on an annual basis and that more than 150 million Rupees is spent annually on Rabies Control.

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