Across the world around 20 million dogs a year are brutally killed and one reason for this cruelty is authorities’ misguided attempts to stop the spread of rabies. But there is a better way to stamp out this terrible disease and with your help we have launched the Collars Not Cruelty campaign calling on governments to stop culling and to start running mass dog vaccination projects – the only solution proven to control rabies.
Dananjaya Karunaratna, one of WSPA’s veterinarians, has been hard at work in Bangladesh supporting and training the vaccination teams on the ground. He shares a typical day with WSPA News…
An Early Start
4:30 am – An early start for me. I’m off to train vets, vaccinate dogs, and generally support local vaccination teams as part of a WSPA funded pilot vaccination project that was recently launched by local authorities in Cox’s Bazar. Cox’s Bazar has the longest beach in the world and is one of Bangladesh’s best tourist attractions. But although it sounds idyllic it actually means working in very remote areas and sometimes in very difficult situations caused by the poor conditions in which so many people live.
I leave the hotel I’m staying at and travel through the dark and cold morning by Tom Tom – a motorized rickshaw – to the Municipal government’s building where we meet all four vaccination teams that will be working today. Each team is made up of two vets, three animal handlers, one coordinator and an assistant.
Our project has been agreed with the government and local authorities as a humane and effective way of controlling rabies which is responsible for 2,100 reported deaths a year in Bangladesh. Until WSPA stepped in to help dogs were being poisoned in vain attempts to stop the disease.
5:00 am Ahamad one of our animal handlers arrives first in one of the Tom Tom’s that we’ll be travelling in today. Before the project he was a road cleaner, but thanks to WSPA funding we have trained him and 29 others to catch dogs so we can vaccinate them. Ahamad is an excellent animal handler and we are very proud of him.
Each team also has a coordinator who knows the area very well and is experienced with the communities in the 12 wards (districts) in which we are working.
5:30 am We speak with all four coordinators and explain the plan for the day and the wards that we intend to cover. Each team will be carrying more than 100 doses of vaccine and syringes in well-secured vaccine carriers – most of this has been paid for by WSPA supporters. I climb in my Tom Tom bound for Ward 11.
6:00 am Today I’m working with Nawroj – a Bangladeshi veterinarian – a recent graduate from Chathagon university – who we have trained to give vaccinations and keep records. To stamp out rabies it’s important to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of dogs in a specific area; record keeping of our daily progress is very important to see how we are doing. We try to vaccinate 80 per cent.
We stop at the boundary of Ward 11 and walk with our three catchers looking for dogs. We start to get the first glimpse of daylight. Most dogs we see are still sleeping. Our first vaccination goes smoothly. While Hussan our handler approaches a sleeping dog and bribes him with biscuits I come up behind and vaccinate him. Then Hussan ties the red collar, which shows he has been vaccinated, around his neck. We get four more dogs in quick session – they don’t bark – this is great news because barking panics other dogs.
6.45 am We travel along the road to the beach passing paddy fields and farm lands. The beach dogs are very friendly so we catch them easily without using nets. One lady who runs a small shop owns five dogs including two cute puppies. She is pleased to see us and understands how important it is to stop the spread of rabies. She helps us to catch and vaccinate them all.
Educating the Community
7:00 am Now we have an audience – people in this community have never seen such an event! It’s a good opportunity to educate them about rabies. The WSPA project has trained handlers and coordinators how to do this and they hand out leaflets spelling out the dangers of rabies and how dog vaccination is effective in controlling the disease. But there is a downside to all of this attention; the crowd, particularly the children, want to help us find dogs. Unfortunately, a lot of the dogs get agitated by this and are more difficult to catch as a result.
But one child shows us 18 puppies – two litters in one place. We vaccinate them and their mothers too. They are all well nourished and healthy – so cute and chubby that if you asked me to pick one for myself it would be the hardest thing to do!
As is true for most of the dogs in this area no one seems to own them 100 per cent, but there are ‘caretakers’ who do their best to feed and care for them. When we started researching the project we were told that people really didn’t care about the dogs; that they didn’t own them or keep them as pets, but the picture is completely different.
The Cox’s Bazar community really loves their dogs and look after them as pets in their own way. How they help them is admirable considering that this is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world; most people earn less than $1 (USD) a day.
385 Vaccinations Completed
9:30 am Time for a break – we have completed 55 vaccinations so far – half of our day’s target and in half of the ward. But after our break it will be harder. It’s 33ºC already; the dogs will be looking for the shade and will be harder to find.
10.15 am We have been asked by one owner to visit his home and see his dogs. He is delighted that we have come to vaccinate his two pets – he doesn’t let them go out because he is frightened of them getting rabies. He also tells us of two places where we can find dogs that need vaccinating. From what he says we think the handlers will need to use their nets. These are very useful and help us catch dogs humanely – they work like giant butterfly nets, but for dogs! We find three dogs inside a well-fenced area; the handlers catch them easily one by one. I vaccinate each dog through the net.
11.30 am Although it is still morning it is getting closer to the end of our day because of our early start. We have used 105 vaccines. This is great, but there are still some areas in the ward uncovered. However, the conditions are getting worse with the intense heat and the handlers are tired after a long chase after two dogs. I decide it’s time to go back to our base at Cox’s Bazar town centre.
1:00 pm We meet with the other teams about our progress. A big well done to every one – 385 vaccinations and most of the eight wards covered. We agree we will be meeting again tomorrow. We’re all looking forward to our late lunch of Bangladeshi rice and curry at our famous local restaurant in front of the Municipality building.