NOVEMBER 9 – I would like to refer to the Malay Mail articles on the 4th and 5th November, 2021, about the Kampar District Council killing stray dogs. Stray dogs live in the open and do not have homes. They may be seen roving in packs, foraging for food, and looking for shelter. Most stray dogs are scared of humans, and usually stay out of our way. And our planet is currently the home to around 800 million dogs (varying from 700 million to 1 billion), with approximately 40 per cent of them being “homeless.” Dog homelessness is a surprisingly tough concept to define.

In developing nations, street animals, especially dogs, are a common feature of the urban environment. This endangers people’s health. They bite, and their excrement on the street may be a severe concern, including bacteria that are not only hazardous to people, but are also antibiotic resistant in certain situations. The most dangerous consequence is rabies. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than three billion people, or over half of the world’s population, live in countries and territories where dog rabies occurs. Each year, the virus kills 55,000 people in Africa and Asia alone.

The prevalence of street dogs in Malaysia is intimately related to municipal cleanliness measures — or the lack thereof. Because these stray dogs often live by scavenging trash, more exposed waste equals more healthy dogs — and more pups. Surprisingly, this makes the dogs a benefit to public cleanliness. They eliminate perishable trash that might otherwise be a source of contamination for humans by scavenging rubbish - stray dogs function as bio-bins.

Furthermore, their presence near rubbish keeps other potentially harmful scavengers, such as rats and mice, at bay.

Most of us see stray dogs as a nuisance and a danger. It takes just a few tragic incidents of dog attacks to turn people against stray dogs and make them all seem dangerous. In all probability, a dog does not bite unless provoked, sick or in pain. In fact, according to a study conducted by The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists published in Psychology Today, sometimes dogs might not even prefer to interact physically. On the other hand, dogs are often expressive and social animals, eager to ‘talk’ to us, provided we hear them out.

The prevalence of street dogs in Malaysia is intimately related to municipal cleanliness measures — or the lack thereof. — Picture by Farhan Najib
The prevalence of street dogs in Malaysia is intimately related to municipal cleanliness measures — or the lack thereof. — Picture by Farhan Najib

Unfortunately, fear and ignorance have caused many Malaysian residents and authorities to see street dogs as a menace and to pursue elimination via harsh means such as poisoning, shooting and beating. However, for every dog that is killed, another usually appears to take over that dog’s area. Mass spay and neutering, often known as animal birth control (ABC), is the only proven way for humanely reducing street dog numbers.

There are an estimated 300,000 dogs and 200,000 cats wandering wild in Istanbul, a megacity of 15 million people. Local governments now provide refuge, regular food, sterilisation, and medical exams by qualified veterinarians to these animals in all of Turkey’s metropolitan areas.

Nonetheless, it was not always like this. According to Dr. Pinar Satioglu in an interview with The New York Times (Oct 2, 2019), “In the late 1990s and early 2000s, municipalities around Turkey poisoned hundreds of dogs. Not only was this poison the most painful and horrible method to kill the dogs, but it was also a public health risk as It goes into the soil and the water, and it comes into touch with children playing in the streets”. On a warm day in 1998, she came upon a hillock of dead, approximately 60 dogs were culled by using a poison called citrinin. On that same day, she and other animal lovers launched a protest against the wholesale deaths of stray dogs.

Culling is also a counterproductive strategy. Inhumane deaths and brutality to dogs may exacerbate aggressive behaviour in them, resulting in a vicious cycle of conflict between human and canine populations in metropolitan places. Nonetheless, in 80 developing nations where rabies is a concern, stray dogs are routinely destroyed in terrifying methods.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s with the arrival of and exposure to internet access, things started to change in Turkey when the cruel killing and culling of stray dogs in the country  sparked protests and created public pressure. In an interview with The New York Times, Asli Varlier, a street animal care campaigner, recalled 2004 as a year when the cognizance and resentment against inhumane treatment of stray dogs began to rise. According to Varlier, “Once those awful photos of the killed dogs started to be widely shared on the internet, there was an increasing public pressure for a law to protect the animals. Many important columnists, artists or musicians started to talk about the abuse street animals suffered.”

As a result, the Turkish government issued a rule in June 2004 requiring for the local governments to rehabilitate street animals rather than kill them. The circular even made it  necessary for the animals to be sterilised, vaccinated, and returned to the location where they were discovered.

Today, municipalities across Turkey have teams that inspect the districts to look for animals in need of neutering. Once they catch the animal, it will be neutered and vaccinated and treated for  any potential medical complications. Before the animals are returned to the places where they were found,  a yellow digital chip will be planted on the animals’ ears, which gives them an identity number for tracking. These chips are also visual signs to the public, as well as the municipality workers, that a particular animal is tracked electronically and its medical data is accessible.

And as reported by The Independent on April 9th 2020, Turkey’s Interior Ministry issued a circular regarding the protection and feeding of stray animals affected by the country’s social distancing policies to stem the spread of coronavirus. The ministry urged local administrations to leave food at the designated locations on a regular basis so that the animals would not starve. Stray animals are receiving less food from locals as all are urged to stay home and much fewer people are on the streets.

It is unacceptable to keep silent in the face of stray dog shootings in Kampar. As we all know, the majority of these stray dogs will die slowly and agonisingly as a result of the gunshot wounds — council workers are not skilled shooters. It is a societal obligation to care for the welfare of stray dogs. I believe it is past time to confront the issue full on. To address the issue, the much-lauded anti-animal cruelty statute must be fully implemented. Plus, those who abandon their pet dogs must be held responsible, or else their actions will become a communal burden.

And instead of shooting the dogs, it is high time for the Malaysian government to adopt the animal birth control (ABC) approach. Through ABC or the Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs, all the dogs within a community or district  will be sterilized and then released back to their territories. The result: Dog breeding stops and their population declines.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.