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June 30, 2009

Bhutan: Enlightened About Animals

Humane Society International

The country of Bhutan has a unique way of judging the development of its society: by measuring its GNH (Gross National Happiness), rather than the more conventional GNP (Gross National Product). While most development models stress economic growth as the ultimate objective, the concept of GNH is based on the premise that, for human society, true progress takes place when material and spiritual advancement occur side by side, complementing and reinforcing each other. 

An admirable attitude

Now, Bhutan has demonstrated its enlightenment once again through the adoption of a nationwide, science-based street dog management and rabies control program. In partnership with Humane Society International and the Bhutan Foundation, the program (planned for three to five years) will commence by September 2009 and is expected to help spay/neuter and vaccinate close to 50,000 dogs across the country.

Overpopulation of free-roaming dogs has been a major problem in Bhutan but, for this Buddhist nation, controlling their numbers using fatal methods was never an option. On their lists of items to pack, tourism agencies often include “ear plugs” in bold, capital letters to help visitors manage to sleep through the sounds of dogs barking and howling all night long in the city streets.

Rahul Sehgal, HSI India Director, stated, “I have been humbled by the fact that the top officials of Bhutan have taken the time to discuss this issue at length and decide on a long-term, effective solution with the welfare of street dogs at its core.”

Test shows success

Before the new program was approved, HSI carried out a four month long pilot program in the capital city of Thimphu, and collected and presented data to help convince authorities that spay/neuter, along with education/awareness, strict licensing laws, and responsible pet ownership were the only ways to effectively manage the homeless dog population.

Fourteen staff from the HSI India office worked hard to put together a successful project, carrying out a population census twice in order to present comparative data of pre-and post-pilot scenarios. In total, 2,866 dogs were sterilized and vaccinated over the four-month period , of which approximately 15 percent were pets.

A major commitment; a moveable model

To complete this program will require an investment of close to US $ 1 million, of which the Royal Government of Bhutan has committed to funding half. HSI is hoping to raise the remainder from our supporters and create a truly “workable” model for others to follow. Ideally, this spay/neuter/vaccinate/return project will not only reduce the suffering of Bhutan’s street dogs, but help improve the lives of street dogs in developing countries worldwide.

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