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April 2, 2009

Spay/Neuter Success in Bhutan

Humane Society International

In February 2009, Humane Society International commissioned a 12-member veterinary team to carry out a two-month spay/neuter/vaccination program in the capital city of Thimphu, Bhutan. Now in the final days of the program, HSI has succeeded in its goal of reaching 1,200 street dogs.

In need of a quick solution

Nearly two years ago, HSI was introduced to the Bhutanese government by the Bhutan Foundation, an organization with a strong history of working in the country. The Bhutan Foundation wanted to see a worthwhile and humane program developed to address the street dog issue. But, during the all-important historical event of Bhutan's transition to a democracy and the impending coronation of the new king in November 2008, royal officials were under immense pressure to do something about the street dog population immediately.

Good intentions; tragic results

Bhutan is a country with a strong Buddhist religious base and therefore, kindness is a core value of their culture. Although the street dog population was an issue, the Bhutanese wanted to use humane means of control rather than the cruel means that many countries resort to, such as poisoning or electrocution. However, due to a lack of time and planning, the Bhutanese officials instead carried out a huge impoundment program over 15 months to rid the streets of Thimphu and Paro (the main cities of Bhutan) of thousands of street dogs. They assumed that the dogs would coexist peacefully in a shelter environment and they would have an immediate solution to the problem.

HSI, during previous visits to the country, had strongly protested this mass sheltering plan as we were aware that much more time, funding, expertise and planning was necessary to undertake this program correctly. Although this kind of action may appear to be a “quick fix” to clearing stray dogs from the streets, it actually perpetuates the problem in the long term.

After the coronation was over and attention returned to the state of animals impounded in several shelters across the country, a very dark scenario emerged. Of the thousands of dogs in the shelters, most were in terrible condition, and many had died. These unintentional and sad results made the government eager to improve the situation and adopt a street dog population control program that would be effective and humane for the long term.

Pilot program developed

With very few vets across Bhutan to train and a massive task at hand, HSI proposed to bring in one of its own HSI CNVR (Catch Neuter Vaccinate Release) veterinary teams specializing in large-scale spay/ neuter operations. To start, a two month pilot program would target 1,200 dogs in Thimphu, but the long-term hope was for a nationwide program.

The Bhutan government accepted the proposal and the HSI team, headed by our India Manager, Rahul Sehgal, arrived in Bhutan on February 14, 2009.

Lessons learned

The team made some very important discoveries, which are being documented for future reference to areas which follow similar practices of trying to get rid of street dogs:

  • All areas cleared of dogs through impounding have more dogs now, after the impounding was discontinued.
  • The new dogs are more aggressive and are breeding more profusely than the dogs who had occupied the areas previously.
  • The dog owners' trust is very difficult to earn as they have become suspicious that the dogs taken away will never be returned.
  • The dogs who escaped capture for the previous sheltering program are now scared and difficult to catch.

Success at hand

The HSI CNVR pilot program is in its final days and the program has reached its target number. The involved government officials are very impressed with the professionalism and the expertise of the HSI team. HSI’s work has been vindicated by the fact that the chief guest for the inauguration of the project, the honorable Health Secretary, sent his own dogs for surgery following his opening of the clinic.

Distribution of 10,000 pamphlets across the city has helped to educate local communities about the CNVR program and its importance. As was hoped for, discussions are currently underway to develop a long-term CNVR project with nationwide coverage across Bhutan, with HSI as the lead agency to implement the project.

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