Dogs, Disease and Wildlife
Dogs can be really great, but they can also be rather troublesome. Approximately 32,000 people are treated for dog bites every year in Nepal, and close to 200 people, mostly children, die from rabies. With clinics and doctors located hours or sometimes days away from villages, we want to prevent deaths and attacks rather than deal with the consequences.
Since domestic dogs are responsible for 99% of human deaths due to rabies, mass vaccinations of dogs have been the most effective strategy to prevent rabies in humans. Sterilisation programs can enhance the effectiveness of mass vaccinations by preventing new pups (unvaccinated dogs) bring being born into a population. Sterilisation also reduces the number of new dogs entering the population (dog migrants) as dogs tend to stay in their home areas after sterilisation. If you are trying to wrap your head around how this works, just think about how we fastidiously vaccinate all newborn babies in hospitals. When we vaccinate these young susceptible human beings, we aren't just protecting them, we also protect the population. As to how preventing new dogs from entering a population stems the arrival of new diseases, just recall the the barrage of vaccines you had to complete before moving to or visiting a new country! Remember: when you vaccinate yourself you protect yourself and those around you too! If you're not sick, you can't make others sick. Disease experts work hard to figure out the numbers that need to be vaccinated so that an outbreak doesn't happen.
Around the world, most mass vaccination and dog sterilisation programs have been focused in urban areas. Which is why our work is so unique and valuable. Most mass vaccination and sterilisation programs are focussed in urban areas because it is more affordable - more dogs can be trapped, vaccinated and sterilised within a given day, and urban areas are more easily and cheaply accessed compared to rural villages. Rabies control programs are absolutely important in urban areas because of the high densities of dogs and humans living together. However, the geographical isolation of rural villagers has only made them more vulnerable to rabies incidences because they lack access to both preventative (i.e. vaccination and sterilisation programs) and response services and facilities (i.e. doctors and clinics). (Above: Few organisations attempt to access rural communities because of high costs and extreme physical challenges. Photo by Debby Ng)
There are other characters in this story - wildlife. Dogs don't just exist amongst people, they live alongside wildlife. There are many rare and precious wild animals that exist in the Annapurna Conservation Area, where our work is based. Some of these animals are endangered and most of them are an asset to local culture and heritage. Villagers have tried to save these wild animals from attacks by domestic dogs, but without access to veterinary services, these wild animals often die slowly from their injuries. Once again, prevention is much more effective and affordable than a cure. (Above: Red panda in Nepal. Photo by Laura Joyce Gadziala)
The Himalayan Mutt Project is one of a few organisations in the world to be implementing rabies vaccinations and sterilisation services for rural communities. We also stand out because we constantly try to evaluate the effectiveness of our work by studying the scientific data that we collect about dog populations, and more recently, with blood samples from the dogs themselves! The more we learn about the dogs and how they are interacting with people and wildlife, the better we will be able to manage the system for the benefit of all! (Above: Our team travel on the back of a tractor. Photo by Debby Ng)
Remember, our work is made possible by the generous donations of people like you! So, thank you for the opportunity to do this work!