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What’s the problem?
Around the world, as urban populations increases, so too do the numbers of street dogs.
This is particularly true for developing nations. Kathmandu is no exception to this rule. A highly urbanised area, the city has been growing for much of the last century and is now home to over three million people. With excellent attractions for tourists around the world and rising living standards, this number will only increase further.
The importance of reducing the population of street dogs cannot be understated. In many ways, overpopulation is the primary cause for a large number of the secondary problems that KAT is tasked with dealing with. The spread of disease, wounds from fighting, collisions with cars and outbreaks of parasites are all directly related to the density of dogs in an area and the degree to which those dogs interact with each other. With fewer dogs, there would be fewer interactions and disease would be far more localized and isolated, and conflicts with both animals and humans would be minimized.
For this reason, overpopulation is a serious issue and one that needs to be correctly understood and addressed. This is what we are doing at KAT Centre.
A number of factors working together are responsible for the overpopulation crisis in Kathmandu.
- High population density: With households close together, dogs have many opportunities to interact with each other.
- Food waste and litter being plentiful: The more food that is available, the greater the number of individuals that can be supported.
- Low-income: This makes spaying and neutering dogs impractical for many poorer families.
- Lack of awareness: Veterinary health is only partially understood and there are myths about alternative ways of stopping dogs getting pregnant, some of which are dangerous and ineffective, such as contraceptive injections.
The contributing factors listed above highlight just how fertile a breeding ground these cities are for a population epidemic, and this is what we have seen in Kathmandu for at least the past forty to fifty years. For much of this time, various Nepali governments had tried in vain to solve the problem by poisoning street dogs with strychnine, a painful process that results in a slow and agonizing death. We know that this began as early as the 1970s and was continuing into the early 2000s when at its height approximately 10,000 dogs were being killed each year.
“I grew up in Kathmandu and as a child witnessed the horrific suffering when the stray dogs were being poisoned. It was like a scene from hell.”
The first serious attempt at solving this problem began with the founding of the Kathmandu Animal Treatment Centre. Jan Salter’s vision was to build on the successes that she had witnessed in other cities around the world, and to apply those techniques in a systematic way for the first time ever in Nepal’s capital. She rightly argued that what was possible elsewhere could similarly be achieved here in Kathmandu.
“Crucially, we wanted to introduce a humane system for the management of street dogs, one that avoided the cruelty and failings of the past.” – Jan Salter
The KAT Centre’s Animal Birth Control (ABC) program started in May 2004 and operates along the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for the management of stray dog populations. Using the principles of systematic sterilization, we aim to spay at least 80% of females, working area by area in an organised way to ensure optimal results in the long term.
As well as being supported by scientific research, we capture and spay dogs in a humane way, observing them post-op for any signs of infection before releasing them back to the community that they came from. The whole process is conducted in a smooth and efficient way, minimizing stress and discomfort.
These precautions are essential in a country like Nepal where the street dogs are likely to have compromised immune systems and where hygiene standards are less strict. In fact, when dogs are spayed by private vets and other organisations, the mortality rates can be as high as 20%. This means that on average, for every five dogs spayed by these organisations, one will die from subsequent infection. At KAT we favour quality of care over speed and generally wait 48-72 before releasing, when we are sure that the animal has fully recovered without any side effects.
On average we sterilize six dogs per day, and we designate a specific area of our centre to house these dogs for monitoring after their operations. This reduces the chance of diseases being spread, and limits stress caused by interactions with our other animals.
After 15 years of laborious work, numerous reports have been published confirming the success of our Animal Birth Control program. The largest study of its kind was conducted by KAT Centre in collaboration with Animal Nepal and funded World Animal Protection (then WSPA) to survey the state of Kathmandu’s street dog population. This survey showed a downward trend in the population of dogs within the surveyed areas.
To date we have spayed over 23,000 dogs across Kathmandu, and we continue to do this work every day.
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There is still much to be done to address the issue of street dog overpopulation, and it will require a cooperative spirit in all of us to fully address it. As well as spaying street dogs directly, we also educate and spread awareness of the importance of spaying pet dogs.
Private vets charge from 5000 to 7000 Nepali Rupees (40-60 USD) to spay dogs and sometimes work to lower standards than we do at KAT absolutely free of charge. Our work in Animal Birth Control is highly specialized and entails a variety of costs including fuel to pick up dogs, wages to pay our veterinarian, surgical equipment, sedatives, prophylactic antibiotics, food and so forth. This means that we are limited by our ability to raise funds to enable this work to continue.
Please consider donating to support our work. Every little helps and your donation will go a long way to treat animals in need.