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Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Islamabad animal sanctuary launches stray dog capture, release program

Updated 16 October 2021

ISLAMABAD: An animal sanctuary in the Pakistani capital claims to be the first in the country to introduce a dedicated trap-neuter-vaccinate-return program to deal with

stray dogs.

The initiative is aimed at using humane methods to manage thousands of free-roaming dogs in Islamabad often seen by authorities and the public as a threat due to their aggressive behavior and them carrying diseases such as rabies.

The Comprehensive Disaster Response Services Benji Project Animal Sanctuary in the city has estimated there are at least 3 million stray dogs in Pakistan, with upward of 50,000 culled each year.

The Global Alliance for Rabies Control has said that more than 80,500 cases of dog bites are reported by basic health units across Pakistan annually, and the World Health Organization estimates that up to 5,000 people die of rabies in the country

every year.

The solution adopted by authorities in most major Pakistani cities is culling of the animals either by shooting them or feeding them poisonous food.

But animal rights groups have advocated vaccination and spaying methods as a better, more humane alternative.

The CDRS Benji Project is testing out one such solution with Pakistan’s first dedicated TNVR program, aimed at reducing both the number of stray dogs and the suffering they have been subjected to for decades, while also making them safer through vaccination, and training to be less aggressive.

“We realized that TNVR is the only way that we can help in reducing, humanely, the number of dogs that roam the streets,” project director Quatrina Hosain told Arab News.

“We have no idea what kind of level of poisoning takes place or shooting takes place … but one estimate is that it’s upward of 50,000 dogs being killed every year. And that is not the solution,” she said.

She pointed out that the sanctuary’s latest arrivals were 15 puppies brought in from Rawalpindi after their mothers were poisoned.

“It (culling) is cruel and inhumane, because they don’t differentiate between nursing mothers, pregnant dogs, and it is just a terrible thing to do. I believe that nobody wants to kill dogs, but they don’t want the dogs to multiply at the level that they are. So TNVR is the only humane way,” Hosain added.

A single female dog can deliver more than a dozen puppies a year, or more than 80 over her lifetime, according to animal rights NGO Four Paws International. Without loving homes to provide adequate shelter, food, and medical care, puppies and kittens — in Pakistan and countries around the world without adequate care for strays — are frequently left to fend for themselves.

Born under less-than-ideal conditions, most of the pups do not survive their first weeks of life — during the winter months many freeze to death, starve when their mothers are killed by traffic, are attacked and eaten by other animals, and sometimes deliberately killed by humans.

CDRS wants to change this, which is why it set up a dedicated facility just a short drive away from Islamabad’s Gulberg Greens neighborhood.

Staff at the facility said that strays were an integral part of the larger ecosystem, particularly for their scavenger roles in removing leftover food such as carcasses and agricultural and city waste. They also help reduce rat populations.

The project is so far a humble beginning, but sanctuary workers are hopeful for more support from authorities and the public. They noted that Turkey was a good example to follow.

CDRS veterinarian, Dr. Hasnain Raza, said: “TNVR was implemented in Turkey some 20 years back, and it has shown very positive results in the country, so we are trying to implement that model in Pakistan. This is a model facility for showing people that it can work, and it is worth trying.

“But we can’t do it alone. In collaboration with the public sector and the private sector, together, we can make sure that animals are cared for in Pakistan.”