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Featured Article - 3 November 2016

Free-roaming dogs are a problem caused by people

This is a reproduction of an article originally published online at written by Dr Louise Taylor, Global Alliance for Rabies Control, Manhattan, US


Sir, Further to Amy Kazmin’s New Delhi Notebook “Human rights clash with canine rights on India’s streets (” (November 1): large free-roaming dog populations in countries such as India pose a twin threat to communities, through dog bite injuries and the risk of rabies. While fatal dog maulings grab the headlines, there is likely a much larger death toll through exposure to rabies. Unfortunately, in India, where rabies is not notifiable, the inadequate reporting does not allow us to quantify accurately the full impact of this horrific disease.

The most recent estimates of the burden of rabies for India suggest almost 21,000 deaths, more than 8m people who require rabies vaccination after a dog bite, and an annual financial burden of $2.39bn. India alone accounts for about 30 per cent of the toll of rabies around the world.

Blaming the dogs is not helpful, as free-roaming dog populations are problems caused by people. Dog populations are maintained by direct feeding and access to waste food in the streets. Compassionate people feed the dogs, but this care is not extended to complete responsibility for the dog. Taking care of street dogs means neutering and vaccinating them against rabies. Mass dog culling has repeatedly been shown to have no sustainable effect on dog population size (or rabies control) while these factors remain unchanged. For a long-term solution, people’s attitudes need to change — from those in the community who care for the animals to the authorities who need to ensure affordable access to sterilisation and vaccination services.

It is time to end the knee-jerk reaction of mass dog culling and work together towards a sustainable solution to be able to live more peacefully and more safely together with dogs.