Nationwide Program Spayed And Neutered 71,000 Stray Dogs In Bhutan Already!

19 Jun 2016 | by | Posted in: Wag News

While in India we're hearing a lot about stray dog killings, poisoning and torture, Bhutan has shown the world how much stray dogs need to be taken care of and valued.

Seven years on, the program has spayed or neutered and given rabies vaccine to 71,000 dogs in Bhutan. "They can do a spay in under ten minutes and a neuter in under five. It's like watching an artist."


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Bhutan is a small Buddhist kingdom tucked in the Himalayas and known best for its Gross National Happiness index. Among tourists, it's also known for its huge stray dog population. "You notice it as soon as you get off the plane," says Twig Mowatt, an animal rights activist and editor of Bark Magazine. "They're along the highways. They're in front of every business, in front of the gas station, the police station, hanging out by people's houses. You're stepping over them on the sidewalks. They're everywhere."

But the stray dogs are precisely the reason Mowatt travelled to Bhutan. "Bhutanese people, who are largely Buddhist, believe that sentient beings should be cared for." And the Bhutanese do care for them though not in their homes.  

"They're really community dogs. There isn't a lot of individual pet ownership the way we in the US would think of it," says Mowatt. "But there are dogs that are loyal to a certain territory. There might be seven or eight that live on a certain block and then the people who live in that area feed the dog. So they do care for the dogs. They don't want to hurt them. They believe that would be bad karma for them."



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But by the mid-2000s, the stray dog population was getting out of control. Illegal meat markets were leaving scraps that attracted packs of dogs. In 2008, Bhutan wanted to clean up the streets in advance of the coronation of a new king, so they reached out to Humane Society International for help.

"Bhutan had the idea that they wanted to put the dogs into big government pounds and just keep them sheltered that way," says Mowatt.

Humane Society International told Bhutan it was a bad idea. But Bhutan went ahead. Thousands of dogs died. And Mowatt says the Bhutanese learned something else: No dogs leads to more rats. "If you take away the dog population — they're very much a part of the ecosystem there — you're really messing with mother nature," Mowatt says. "So the rats had moved in to replace the dog void and they were just inundated with rats."



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This was the time to change how things work! Humane Society International persisted and suggested that Bhutan try something that was unprecedented: A nationwide spay/neuter and vaccine program.

"They said, 'Look, we know this is the only thing that will work. We know it's going to take a little time but in the long run, this is the only effective solution.'" And the government agreed.

Humane Society International initiated the Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release method. Dogs are released later the same day in the same location where they were captured. 



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When the program started in 2009, Humane Society International estimated there were about 100,000 stray dogs in Bhutan, largely in the cities. Mowatt says it took a while to get things up and running. 

"First, they didn't have enough vets so Indian members of Humane Society International sent in a vet team." Then they started creating a Bhutanese team, training vets, vet techs, even dog catchers.

"They use nets, which is very humane but it's not easy. These guys are real escape artists. They're biggish dogs. They're super smart. They work together." 

"The way you can recognize a dog that's been spayed or neutered is they take a little triangular notch out of its left ear," she says. "And I have to say, everywhere I went, I would hike up to some monastery in the hills or trekking along the rice paddies and every single dog I saw had this triangular notch." 



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The spay and neuter program is ongoing and is now entirely run by the Bhutanese people, which was always the goal. 

It's time to realise how far behind we are in protecting our very own strays.


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