Animal Rights

Millions of Dogs Brutally Killed Every Year in Misguided Attempt to Stop Rabies' Spread

Our fear of rabies has led to cruel and illogical responses. Vaccination programs are helping.

12 dogs brought by a family for vaccination in Makueni County, Kenya. In the cardboard box are seven 3-week-old puppies with their mother Tyson.
Photo Credit: World Animal Protection/Georgina Goodwin

With the Chinese New Year’s start last month, the Year of the Dog is now underway. For many of us, dogs are beloved members of the family. In numerous countries, dogs are not only companion animals, but they’re also valuable community members, guarding farm animals and people from intruders and wild predators. Of the estimated 700 million dogs on the planet, an estimated 75 percent are stray or free-roaming.  And it may be a surprise to learn that up to 10 million of these dogs are brutally killed every single year, primarily in a misguided attempt to stop the spread of rabies.

Although canine rabies has been eliminated in the United States and across the developed world, this disease is still a dire global problem—a forgotten crisis. Some 59,000 people around the world still die of rabies every year, most of them children. Ninety-nine percent of human rabies cases are transmitted by dog bites.

When dogs contract rabies, they suffer a violent, distressing death. But many millions of dogs also suffer cruelty at the hands of governments and local communities fearful of the disease. The most frequent response to rabies outbreaks is mass dog culling, perceived as a cheap and easy way to control the disease. But mass culls have consistently failed to stop the spread of rabies, no matter how many dogs are killed. And such culls typically use highly cruel methods—such as electrocution, shooting, poisoning, or simply beating dogs to death.

Fear of rabies leads to the long and painful deaths of dogs who have done nothing wrong and are not infected. But this problem is one we can solve: by vaccinating the majority of dogs in local communities and promoting responsible ownership at both individual and institutional levels, we can protect dogs AND people not just from rabies (and the many other zoonotic diseases transmitted by dogs), but from the fear that comes with it.

Mass dog vaccination, together with promotion of responsible dog ownership at all levels, is the only effective way to control canine rabies and protect people from this preventable disease. Through our Better Lives for Dogs campaign, we’re working to end the inhumane killing of dogs and improve their welfare conditions.

A young boy holds his puppy after it has been vaccinated on World Rabies Day in Makueni County, Kenya. (© World Animal Protection)

Since 2011, World Animal Protection has given more than 1 million rabies vaccinations to dogs. We also work with governments to develop and create national rabies eradication strategies that include humane dog population management at their center. And to make sure we’re setting enduring change in motion, we also educate local communities on dog welfare and responsible dog ownership.

Our strategy of mass dog vaccination and responsible ownership promotion works, and the proof is in the pudding. The African islands of Zanzibar are home to 10,000 dogs. Before our intervention, dogs were indiscriminately shot in response to rabies outbreaks. We supported the government to vaccinate dogs and improve responsible dog ownership locally. No human rabies cases have been reported there since 2013, and dogs are no longer culled in Zanzibar in attempts to control rabies.

Abdi Muhamadi Ali came with his father and 27 of their 28 dogs to a field vaccination clinic in the central district of Ndijani, Zanzibar. (The 28th dog was already vaccinated.) The local Department of Veterinary Services was carrying out a rabies vaccination program on Zanzibar with support from World Animal Protection. (© World Animal Protection)

Kenya bears the burden of an estimated 2,000 human rabies cases per year. Rabies outbreaks there were previously met with random, ineffective dog vaccinations coupled with shooting and poisoning the animals. Working together with the Kenyan government since 2014, we’ve vaccinated 100,000 dogs against rabies since 2014 and trained local teachers, education officers, and veterinary officers on responsible dog ownership and dog bite prevention.

Bangladesh used to have one of the highest rates of human rabies cases in the world. Bangladeshi authorities responded by killing as many dogs as they could. We lobbied the government to end this cruel, fruitless approach, and have worked in the country to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of dogs. Human rabies cases are rapidly falling.




Mohamad Bipul, 11, brought his puppy Raja to be vaccinated in Gaibandha District, Bangladesh. World Animal Protection worked with the local government to roll out mass vaccination programs to control rabies. Dogs were marked with non-toxic paint to show they had been vaccinated. (© World Animal Protection / Shafiqul Kiron)

Kaosar Mondol with the four dogs that belong to his family. All were vaccinated in Gaibandha District, Bangladesh. (© World Animal Protection / Shafiqul Kiron)

In China, there’s a brighter future for the country’s dogs. We vaccinated over 90,000 dogs in three pilot sites to prove that vaccination is more effective than culling. The results have been remarkable: no human rabies cases have been reported since then in any of the vaccination sites.

And in Brazil, we’ve worked with city authorities to implement dog population management programs and have trained over 200 professionals (veterinarians, public health agents, legislators and decision-makers) on humane dog population management in the country.

These approaches have led to national strategies for rabies prevention, but dogs need global action. Thankfully, this is well underway: The global UN sustainable development goal (SDG) has a target of eliminating all neglected tropical diseases (this includes rabies) by 2030, and in December 2015, the World Health Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization and World Organization for Animal Health jointly committed to ending rabies by 2030, agreeing on a framework to do so. We still have a long way to go, and there is still a huge amount of work to do to reach this goal.

Puppies at a shelter in Brasov, Romania. World Animal Protection worked with local groups to help manage stray dog populations. (© World Animal Protection)

In April 2016, World Animal Protection was in Makueni County, Kenya to oversee a small rabies vaccination drive carried out by the local government vets. (© World Animal Protection / Georgina Goodwin)

At World Animal Protection, we are continuing to focus our efforts in ensuring that dog welfare is at the center of all efforts to eliminate rabies; that dogs are treated as soldiers rather than as enemies in a global fight against rabies. Furthermore, we will continue to create better lives for dogs in areas where dogs face the greatest threat to their lives. This year, we will be working closely with the governments of Kenya, Sierra Leone, China and others who seek our support to put in place humane dog population management approaches to eradicate rabies once and for all.

We can make rabies a disease of the past and create better lives for dogs and communities globally. You can help by being a champion of our cause, spreading the word about the little-known cruelty dogs face because of the still-persistent threat of rabies. Let's make this Year of the Dog one where we create lasting change for the animals who give our world so much.

Pankaj KC is the head of the Better Lives for Dogs campaign at World Animal Protection.

Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Election 2018