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Thursday, 2 February 2012






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Roaming dogs, rabies and the law

The bond between man and dog has its beginnings 12-14 millennia ago somewhere in Eurasia where a reciprocal relationship between both emerged.

Many newspaper articles have also been published in this regard. Killing of dogs under the rabies ordinance introduced by the British rulers 100 years ago was stopped by the local government authorities, since President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ‘No kill policy’ was introduced in 2006.

As per the Health Ministry’s statistics over 2,000 people receive human rabies vaccine daily. In 2011 over 397,825 people were treated in government hospitals and 49 had died of hydrophobia (Human rabies). Over 80 percent of the funds spent on rabies control programme in the past were spent on importation of human vaccine. It is now believed that the best way to reduce the stray dog menace and the spread of rabies is through a sterilization and vaccination programme popularly known as ABC-AR (Animal Birth Control – Anti Rabies).

Sri Lanka is a country which has all the regulations to suit the nation but they are not followed. When someone owns a dog, he or she is faced with a legal responsibility as well as a moral one. Generally, keeping dogs does not present problems to public, unless the owners allow them to become a nuisance by letting their dogs stray. If all dog owners and concerned officials were responsible, then the problem of straying (the main cause) would be curtailed to minimum.

Laws around the world

Historically a charge for keeping dogs was first levied in Britain far back as 1796 to raise revenue. In general different countries have different laws. In UK every dog has to be registered with the local authority at the age of four months. In USA the laws regulating dog ownership are so many and so complex that each state has the power to regulate their own law pertaining to dog ownership. In China, rabies is the top infectious disease ahead of TB and HIV/AIDS. China has the second highest case of Rabies in the world next to India. In China the registration of dog ownership licence was reduced from 5,000 Yuan (US 600 dollars) to 1,000 Yuan (US 120 dollars) in the year 2003. Large breed of dogs is prohibited and one family can own only one dog. If caught unregistered dog owners will be fined from 2,000 Yuan onwards (US 240 dollars). In Singapore too, large breeds are prohibited. Every dog over three months has to be registered at a cost of 14 Singapore dollars (Sri Lankan Rs 1,200 approximately). In Japan the Animal Protection Laws (1973) is primarily signed to protect the people from animals and not the other way around.

In Sri Lanka, the Registration of Dog Law was first introduced in 1901. The ratification of the law was last done in 1961. According to the ordinance (7) “The occupier of any house or premises where any dog or dogs are kept or permitted to live or remain, shall be liable to pay the registration fees for such dog or dogs, (To any Municipal Council, Urban Council and Pradeshiya Sabhas in the area according to their rates) and in default of such payments shall be liable to penalties incurred by persons keeping unregistered dogs unless, the said occupant can prove the satisfaction of the Magistrate.” The ordinance (4) also provides the concerned authority to do the job is the Local Authority. (Municipal Council, Urban Council and the Pradeshiya Sabhas).

Community dogs and stray dogs

In Sri Lanka there is a large number of roaming dogs, at least half of them which have owners. Most of these dogs live in packs, either fed by the owners or scavenging in the neighbourhood. These dogs can bite the passer-by while trying to mate or fighting among themselves. Pedestrians are usually bitten by aggressive stray dogs roaming with puppies. The roaming dog and rabies menace is attributed to, reasons, such as, the local authorities failing to enforce the Registration of Dogs Act, and flexible rules, such as unleashed dogs in public, dumping of puppies in public places, rabies vaccination not made mandatory and garbage disposal by local authorities.

In the urban and town areas the poor garbage disposal system and the presence of chicken stalls, small butcher shops, market places and poor disposal of hotel and hospital waste are the main places where these strays could be noticed. Poor garbage disposal and bad solid waste management by the local authorities are other reasons for stray and roaming dogs. Differentiating the community dogs and the stray dogs has become an important issue in eradicating the rabies problem.

It is time that animal welfare activists should identify the difference between community dogs and stray dogs. Dog bite attack is a terrifying ordeal. Often children are victims of dog bites. The lacerating wound in a dog bite is very painful, may even need surgical treatment and could cause permanent damage. More than that the pain and suffering, the emotional suffering of the victim and the family is stressful. Rabies in human is 100 percent fatal once the disease is manifested. The suffering of a human rabies victim on the U Tube is self-explanatory as to why we need a rabies free Sri Lanka. Therefore it's time we differentiate a community dog from a stray dog and the latter destroyed humanely.

Anti rabies programme

It is believed, world over 55,000 people die of human rabies and of which 36 percent deaths occurs in India. A study by WHO in India has shown the success of ACB-AR programme, conducted in Chennai and Bangalore.

Incidence of rabies in Chennai in 1996 was 120 deaths which gradually decreased to five in the year 2003 due to the successful ABC-AR programme.

The ‘catch and kill’ policy to eradicate rabies in our country has never been successful from British days. Most local authorities in the past have shown much anxiety using the Rabies Ordinance (4). The recent sterilization and vaccination programme by the Health Ministry and other animal welfare organizations have failed due to poor understanding among the concerned people who have undertaken this project and will continue.

Rabies and stray dog menace can be controlled in a much better way if the following suggestions are considered:

1. Registration and licensing of all dogs with immediate effect by the local authorities under the Registration of Dog Act. 1961 (All dogs over six months to be registered)

2. Make rabies vaccination compulsory annually before registration of the dogs by the local authority.

3. Domestic dogs being leased in public and letting dogs loose in public a punishable offence.

4. Local bodies to set up ABC-AR (sterilization and vaccination) programme throughout Sri Lanka simultaneously.

5. Health Ministry, Ministry of Livestock and the Ministry of Local Government should get together and form an advisory board to formulate a foolproof programme and policy on rabies control.

6. Stray dogs in public market places, hospitals to be caught and destroyed humanely.

Unless such suggestions are fulfilled, any number of millions spent on rabies eradication will never succeed.

The writer is a veterinary surgeon, chairman, Hatton Dickoya Urban Council



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