The Sochi Olympics have served to highlight numerous injustices that we, as humanity, still grapple with. However, few have been as poignant as the mass dog culling that was globally condemned at the start of the games. Yet what many fail to realize is that dog culling is an issue that takes place, almost daily, in many areas of the world. The main reason behind such an abhorrent practice is a misguided attempt to quell a disease the Western world has mostly forgotten about: rabies.
Rabies, while incredibly rare in western nations, is still ravaging certain areas in the developing world. People are bitten by stray dogs, or unvaccinated pets that have been infected with rabies. Without post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), once this disease shows symptoms, it becomes an untreatable death sentence. Young children are often considerably more at risk, as they tend to be naturally curious about animals they see around their neighborhood.
In nations that barely scrape together resources for clean water and safe roads, it’s hard to find room in the budget for taking care of street dogs. The assumption that simply ridding the city of them as an easy and effective method is surprisingly common. However, studies have shown that culling is an ineffective way to control rabies. This is because it takes very little time for street dogs to repopulate, and the spread of rabies is not always dependent on the concentration of dogs within an area.
Programs in numerous third world nations have been working hard to vaccinate early and often. Travelling vets head into neighborhoods and slums, administering shots to puppy litters and ensuring proper protocols are followed for bite victims and street dogs alike. Such programs have proven effective in giving a “herd immunity” (when more than 70% of the dog population is vaccinated) to stray animals, leading to the eradication of rabies. In fact, such programs have proven more cost effective than culling.
Yet frequent culling continues in developing nations. In 2006, after a rabies outbreak, China underwent a cull that destroyed more than 50,000 dogs, which also included already vaccinated dogs and pets. While this caused considerable outrage, laws have yet to be passed in China that includes proper animal protections. In East Africa, despite the best efforts of groups, including the DVO in Kenya and the USPCA in Uganda, the culling of dogs still rears its ugly head when rabies fears are heightened. And discouragingly, as recently as this January, dog culls where called for Myanmar’s larger cities.
Yet, as upsetting as this can be, Latin America’s success in eradicating rabies could lead the way in how to approach the rabies threat in a developing nation. The region has long dealt with the issue of strays, yet through concentrated efforts and vaccination programs, rabies cases in the region have dropped by 90% with Chile and Uruguay succeeding in creating rabies-free societies. This was achieved through a combination effort that includes mass vaccinations (for herd immunity), veterinary monitoring for outbreaks and public health initiatives targeting and educating local populations about rabies and PEP treatments.
Groups such as the World Health Organization have instituted numerous programs worldwide to stop rabies in South Africa, The Philippines and Indonesia. The World Society for the Protection of Animals collaborates with the UN and World Organization for Animal Health in more than 50 countries to help administer education and vaccination programs. And the Global Alliance for Rabies Control has created a multi-point system for addressing rabies issues in stray dogs and in humans alike.
Donating to these causes and writing your representatives to increase funding to worldwide rabies control initiatives can help bring an end to needless dog culls. Vaccination programs have been proven, over and over, to be the only reliable method in preventing this disease in both animal and humans. What happened in Sochi was terrible, but it can help illuminate the wider problem: that dog culling isn’t just some rare event, but a widely used method employed around the globe. An inhumane tragedy that can, and should, be stopped in favor of scientifically proven methods.
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