About the speaker
As well as being a Partner in a large companion animal practice near to London, Ray Butcher is a veterinary advisor to the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and has worked on a number of projects in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. He has represented WSPA and the World Veterinary Association (WVA) on the World Health Organisation (WHO) "Rabies in Asia working group".
I have been very fortunate to have traveled widely and have come to understand that there are often no simple answers to animal welfare problems. We must take account of religious, cultural and economic differences as well as realise that we cannot consider animal welfare in isolation of human welfare issues.
Asia has many cultures and so there are many different solutions to the same challenges. I feel a little embarrassed as a European making this presentation in Asia, but hope that you will accept the observations of an "outsider" as food for thought rather than an attempt to tell you what is right or wrong.
This presentation will use humane stray dog control programmes as an example and suggest challenges for our profession.
Before discussing the stray dog control programmes in more detail, it is important to outline a number of basic concepts:
1. Human Animal interactions
We interact with animals throughout our daily lives. There are many benefits of owning pets, but when they are not kept in a responsible way or allowed to stray, they may cause significant problems to society as a whole. It is important that all involved realise there must be a balance achieved, and that any control schemes must employ only humane methods.
2. The Five Freedoms
The so-called "Five Freedoms" were introduced by the Farm Animal Welfare Council of the UK to assess the welfare of farm animals kept in intensive husbandry systems. They represent an ideal situation, but still remain a useful guide. Having accepted their value in the agricultural context, it is important that we use the same criteria to assess our programmes for companion animals. Sadly, the examples will show that significant welfare problems can result the actions of well-meaning animal protection groups.
3. Responsible Pet ownership
This is an easy concept when considering a household pet. The owner is responsible for providing adequate care and ensuring that the behaviour of their pet does not adversely affect society in general. In cultures with so-called "community dogs", it is important to educate society to have a degree of corporate responsibility for these dogs.
A stakeholder is anyone (man, animal or association) that is directly or indirectly affected by any proposed programme. The potential stakeholders in stray dog control programmes will be discussed, illustrating the wide range of interests and views that need to be taken note of. Failure to co-ordinate these groups at the start will adversely affect the chances of success.
Stray dog control programmes
The WHO estimate that the worldwide dog population is about 10% of the human population, and of these, 75% can be regarded as strays. These dogs can cause direct injury or disease to humans, livestock and pets and many other indirect costs. In countries with endemic rabies, these costs can become very high. Historically, municipalities have tended to respond using mass slaughter campaigns. These are often inhumane, indiscriminate and ineffective. For this reason in 1991, the WHO and WSPA introduced guidelines on population control programmes. The overall framework required:
2. Registration and identification
3. Garbage Control
4. Neutering of owned pets
5. Neutering of un-owned dogs
6. Regulation of breeders and sales outlets
The specific situation in different countries means that the priorities will vary, but it is important that all factors are considered. It is also essential that all groups involved (municipalities, human health ministries, veterinarians, animal protection societies) work to an agreed coordinated plan.
Before starting a programme it is also important to perform an accurate survey of the population. Potentially a stray dog population can be made up of:
Owned dogs that have accidentally been lost
Owned dogs that are allowed to wander
Owned dogs that have been abandoned
The priorities of the specific programme will reflect the relative numbers in each group. It is also important that the survey method is to an agreed standard such that data can be compared and the success of the project monitored accurately.
While a "no kill" policy may be the moral ideal, it is probably unrealistic for groups with limited resources in areas with a poor economy. In such cases, failure to face up to difficult decisions may cause more welfare problems.
Neuter and release programmes have been successfully used in some situations where there is a large community or feral population. The requirements for such programmes will be discussed, as well as the potential welfare problems resulting from playing the "numbers game".
A number of projects within Asia will be described that illustrate these points.
WHO and Rabies Control
Although many animal protection societies are involved in stray dog control from a perspective of animal welfare, it is my opinion that the success of any project will be judged by its success at controlling rabies. Although the guidelines described above were produced jointly by WHO and WSPA, it is clear that the lessons are ignored by many human health agencies that still promote mass slaughter. There is also relatively poor communication between those devising strategies and those working in the field. Veterinarians have an important role to play in this connection.
The biggest challenge is perhaps education, and the most responsive group in any society is children. The majority of successful projects have an education component and veterinarians have an important role to play.
To stimulate this progress, it is important that we "educate the educators". It is the policy of WVA to encourage the introduction of Animal Welfare as a core curriculum subject in the veterinary faculties of developing countries, and a WSPA project called "Concepts in Animal Welfare" has been developed to facilitate this. The philosophy of this WSPA project is endorsed by WSAVA.