Microchipping Nepal’s dogs
Nepal was declared an open defecation free zone for humans in 2019, but in Pokhara it is the dogs that are creating nuisance.
Public complaints about streets strays using sidewalks as lavatories in this picturesque lake-side city have prompted Pokhara’s municipality to make dog registration and licensing compulsory – the first time in Nepal.
If successful, the pilot project will be replicated in Kathmandu and other cities with strays and community dogs being microchipped and tagged to keep the canine population in check, and also help control rabies.
“Registering in Kathmandu would be more challenging given the sheer number of dogs in the Valley. We will need a separate body for monitoring and proper documentation with microchipping,” says Khageshwaar Sharma of Himalayan Animal Rescue Trust (HART) in Pokhara.
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Kathmandu municipality’s livestock division already has three years of experience registering street bovines and water buffalos by embedding microchips in them. It has now received Rs5 million from the Prime Minister Employment Program to bulk microchip dogs and cats this year. Officials will soon conduct door-to-door visits to do a canine census, and estimate the total microchips needed.
“The census will also give us a more accurate figure for the total number of dog owners, pet shops and clinics, which in turn will allow for mass vaccination against rabies, spaying and neutering of the dogs and formulation of necessary regulations,” says Awadesh Jha, livestock division chief with Kathmandu municipality.
Ideally, registration and microchipping of dogs should be done by breeders but in Nepal, the government does not even have a record of the total number of breeders and kennel clubs in the country. In fact, there is no law stipulating breeders have to be registered, adding to the risk of animal abuse.
Laws preventing animal abuse are relatively new in Nepal. The Ministry of Livestock Department developed the Animal Welfare Directive only in 2016 and even that has no provision to punish offenders.
To be sure, animal abuse is criminalised under the Criminal Code of Nepal. Yet, specific laws for animal welfare are still missing such as the specificity of animal hospitals and clinics, breeding and shops. What this has done is proliferate so-called ‘animal hospitals’ that lack basic veterinary equipment and mostly function as breeders or pet shops.
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“With increasing pet ownership, particularly that of canines, we need proper guidelines. Many first generation dog owners need to be taught how to treat their pets well,” says Pramada Shah of Animal Nepal.
Diktel municipality in Khotang district became notorious two years ago for brutally beating and killing stray dogs. A video clip of the torture and killing of a dog named Khairey in Banepa last year provoked outrage and street protests. There have been frequent mass poisonings of street dogs. And in 2019, hundreds of street cows were pushed off a cliff in Surkhet by a contractor who was supposed to transport them to a shelter.
Animal rights activists say that the central government needs to draw up uniform laws so that offenders, be they pet owners, locals, shops or breeders, can be held accountable.
Caring for dogs is also important for rabies control. Nepal needs to achieve the World Health Organisation (WHO) ‘Zero by 30’ global strategic plan to prevent human deaths by dog-mediated rabies by 2030. Rabies is a completely preventable disease but has the highest documented case-fatality rate at close to 100%. Globally, it is responsible for nearly 60,000 deaths a year, 40% of which are of children under 15.
And while rabies occurs in more than 150 countries, it is endemic in South Asia and Africa. India alone accounts for 40% of all annual rabies deaths in the world. Nepal on the other hand has an average of 125 cases a year, but this is a gross underestimation, say experts. Most cases in rural areas never make it to healthcare facilities.
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An anti-rabies injection is often the only way to save a person bitten by a rabid dog and has to be administered immediately after a dog bite. But only a few government healthcare facilities in Nepal have a stock of free vaccines, and in private clinics patients have to pay a hefty fee for a jab.
Preventive measures including vaccinating and controlling the canine population are the most cost-effective approach, and dog registration with microchipping can be the first step in ensuring this.
For now, Pokhara is leading the way. Says Awadesh Jha: “With registration, owners can find lost pets, animals can be protected from diseases and the government can form plans to control the canine population and take action against irresponsible ownership, breeding or selling. We should microchip every animal so that either dogs or humans don't misbehave.”
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