Throughout World Rabies Day (28 September), vets from Humane Society International/India went door-to-door in the remote villages of Dori and Dopenatti in Dharwad, southwest India, to vaccinate the free-ranging domestic dog population.
Local resident Allah Baksh said, “My dog’s name is Pinto and he is 3 years old. I am a member of the grama panchayat (village administrative unit). Members of HSI/India and government doctors have come today and vaccinated almost all dogs in our village.
“This is a really good initiative to safeguard the health and wellness of our dogs and the people in our village. We welcome this program and have fully cooperated with them. We would also like to get our dogs sterilised in the near future.”
With free shots and mobile phones at the ready to create medical records and track each vaccinated dog, the aim is to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the dog population – enough to achieve herd immunity. Since 2013 HSI/India has vaccinated and sterilised nearly 400,000 dogs and cats across the country.
India has around 20,000 human rabies deaths a year, accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the worldwide death toll. Almost all cases are connected to dog bites, making these vaccination drives – along with increasing awareness and humane population control of India’s street dogs – vital to protect thousands of human lives as well.
Dr Vineeta Poojary, HSI/India’s veterinary sciences manager, says, “One of the primary drivers of deliberate cruelty faced by street or community dogs is the fear of being bitten and of contracting rabies. Roughly 20,000 people a year die of rabies in India, and most rabies cases in humans are the result of a dog bite, so by protecting the health of the dogs with a simple vaccine, we are protecting these communities at the same time.”
Dr Poojary added, “The biggest challenge though is in making communities aware of the need to vaccinate their dogs. When we first vaccinated dogs in Dori last year, vaccination was a totally alien concept to this community and there was considerable scepticism. But now that they understand the importance of the rabies vaccine and have seen that their dogs are unharmed by it, their hesitancy has reduced significantly.
“Community buy-in is absolutely essential for rabies programs to work, which is why we focus so much on community engagement and education. Efforts such as these serve as the foundation to build long-term disease monitoring and surveillance programs at a district level as they enable us to collect samples from a mosaic of landscapes and species to build a robust disease profile of the region overall.
“Models such as this will go a long-way in ensuring animal health, community health and in-turn, planetary health.”
Images by HSI/India