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  Home >> Animal Issues - Stray Dogs >> Stray dog population declines after 70% are sterilised

The following is a synopsis of the Dog Control Program Animal India Trust presented on behalf of the Society for Stray Canine Birth Control to various Delhi city officials, veterinarians, representatives of neighborhood associations and other interested parties on March 29, 2005.  Although specifically directed at the Delhi audience, this presentation and program is really a basic primer on humane animal control for anyone, anywhere and if its principals are implemented correctly it will work anywhere in the world.

Before begining to set up any program, there needs to be a determination as to what the primary objective is.  When it comes to a comprehensive Dog Control Program for Delhi, the primary objective must be two fold.  It must be set up  from the very beginning with the end goal of 1) completely containing canine rabies and 2) humanely controlling the dog population densities.  Once the primary objective has been determined, the question then becomes, which course of action must be taken to successfully reach the end goal? 

What Do We Need to Build a Successful Dog Control Program?

To build a successful Dog Control Program, four major components are needed:  Rabies Control, Dog Population Management, Habitat Control and Pet Registration.  

Each of these components must be complete and functional programs in themselves, capable of making significant contributions to an overall dog control program.  However, the true secret to success lies not in their individual strength, but in their combined strength.  By combining these programs together into a well planned comprehensive Dog Control Program, it becomes possible to provide a viable long term solution to Delhi’s rabies and dog population problems.

However, neglecting even one component in the equation will considerably lower the chances of success and make attaining the desired goals much more difficult.
Merging the Components – Focusing on the Targets

Once the necessary program components have been identified the dogs to be targeted must be determined.

In the overall dog population there are very specific categories of dogs, each considerably different in their makeup from one another.

The first category to be considered is the Family Owned - Restricted or Supervised dog.  These dogs are totally dependent on their owners and their movements are completely supervised and restricted by their owners.  In this population segment, the rate of reproduction is relatively low.  Many of the males are neutered and females in heat are kept under control.  Shelter, food and water are intentionally provided by their owner.
The second category is the Family Owned – Partially Restricted dog.  These dogs are wholly dependent on their owners, but their movements are only partially restricted and they are not completely supervised.  These dogs can be found wandering on the streets part of the time.  Due to their lack of complete supervision and movement restriction, these dogs can freely reproduce and their rearing success may be high since their main food source, shelter and protection are provided by humans. These same dogs however, may often also feed on refuse and garbage and this is significant in regards to dog transmitted disease.  The surplus offspring of this population segment will generally end up entering either the neighborhood/community dog population or that of the feral dog.

The third category is the Unsupervised Neighborhood or Community dog.  These dogs are partially dependent on humans; however their movements are unrestricted and unsupervised.  Since these dogs are not supervised and their movements are completely unrestricted, the uncontrolled population growth of this group adds significantly to the increase of the overall dog population.  This population segment also poses a significant health hazard in regards to rabies transmission and other dog related diseases. 

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), has estimated that 88% of Community/Neighborhood dog owners attempt to hide their dogs from the MCD and NGO dog catchers. Opposition to having their dogs captured is usually not in opposition of sterilization and vaccination, but in the belief that capture may lead to the killing of the dog.  Once the dog catchers leave, the dogs are then left to roam and mate freely once again.

The fourth and final dog population category is the Feral dog. Feral dogs are independent or dependent only on human waste/garbage and their movements are totally unrestricted.
Now that we have looked at the four categories it is easy to understand that both unsupervised family owned dogs and neighborhood or community dogs, contribute greatly to the rising stray dog population. Therefore, any successful Dog Control Program must encompass all categories of dogs, not just the dogs found wandering and/or living on the streets. If any population segment is largely ignored while implementing any Dog Control Program, the program is guaranteed to ultimately fail.

Another thing that is quickly realized once a person begins thinking about the different categories of the dog population is that there are very few dogs which have no referral household or no attachment to at least one person or establishment in a community.  Even the neighborhood or community dog will have some level of attachment to a specific human or the community as a whole.  These dogs are likely dependent upon human aid in the form of food, shelter and possibly some level of protection. 

Exceptions to the general rule may be found in limited areas where dogs find sufficient food and shelter without the intentional aid of humans, such as, markets, slaughter houses, garbage receptacles, etc.  These dogs which lose their relationship to man and become truly feral, survive best if they become members of an independent pack.  These dogs are also much less likely to be as successful in raising litters if given no aid by man, either directly or indirectly, as will the dogs with some human aid and/or supervision.

Successful dog population management strategies cannot be effective in the long term if they depend solely on reducing the number of truly feral dogs which already struggle for survival on a day to day basis.  Even though these dogs may be very significant in the transmission of rabies and other diseases and should therefore be targets of population and vaccination control measures for those very reasons, they cannot be the sole source of focus in dog population management.
All of this information prompts us to ask, what is truly meant by the term `stray dog'.  For instance, family owned dogs kept in houses during the day may be left to freely roam the streets at night or vice versa.  Therefore, the correct use of the 'Stray' terminology is thus mainly a reference to roaming/wandering - not ownership alone.  Any dog permitted by its owner to roam free and unsupervised at any time and under any circumstances should by definition be considered a `stray' dog.  In that light, it can be said, all feral dogs are strays, but all stray dogs are not feral.

Since we now understand the four categories of the dog population and the part they play in Delhi's dog overpopulation and rabies problems, let’s discuss the four major components that will make up a successful Dog Control Program.

We’ll begin with a look at Rabies Control and Population Management, but first let us consider the following observations.

Successful dog population management requires mass sterilization.

However, even if you are able to sterilize every single dog, they can still transmit rabies if they are not vaccinated.

Rabies prevention can only be effectively achieved through vaccination.

If you vaccinate the entire dog population, you can eventually prevent rabies completely, but will never have affected the dog population issue at all.

When we think about this, we realize the two issues are completely separate.  However, when it comes to implementing a Dog Control Program, if you overlap the two and work on both at the same time, you then have the beginning of a successful Dog Control Program.
Now let's consider the two issues.

Rabies Control and Population Management:

Here are some of the things we know about rabies here in India.
• We know the largest transmission source of rabies is the dog population.

• We also know India’s dog population doubled in a three year period from 1998 to 2001.  Therefore, we can assume Delhi’s dog population also doubled during the same timeframe.  
• We are also aware that according to the latest statistics from the World Health Organization there are approximately 18,000 reported human deaths in India each year from rabies.  This equates to one death every 30 minutes from rabies. 

It should be noted that statistics regarding deaths from rabies are obtained only from government hospitals and do not reflect any deaths occurring in private homes, private hospitals, etc. 
• According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, we know that 96% of the rabies cases reported in India are caused by bites from stray dogs.
• Of the nearly 2.2 million people a year in India that are bitten by animals, only 1.4 million seek treatment.

The figures below indicate the number of rabies deaths in Delhi and the surrounding outlying areas (suburbs) by year since the start of the Society for Stray Canine Birth Control.  These cases are all reported from only one source: The Maharishi Valmiki Infectious Diseases Hospital of MCD

2001:  172
2002   208
2003   217
2004   215 up to December of 2004
As you have probably already noted, these statistics show our current rate of rabies vaccination is not great enough to control the spread of rabies.  In fact we are not really seeing a decline in the numbers at all.  If we are to experience a significant drop in the rate of rabies a much greater number of dogs must be vaccinated at a much quicker rate along with a rapid decrease in the dog population through sterilization and other population management controls. 

At this time, by municipal government estimates, we have approximately 200,000 stray or free roaming dogs in New Delhi.   Our own estimates put the number closer to twice that amount or 400,000.  These numbers, whichever may be closer to the actual number, along with the number of rabies deaths reported annually, plus the number of reported dog bites/attacks leaves little doubt it is long past time to implement an organized and proactive approach to bring the numbers down.

Without comprehensive Animal Birth Control (ABC) and Anti Rabies Vaccination (ARV) programs in place to help slow and eventually stop the indiscriminate breeding of Delhi's stray dogs along with insuring the population is vaccinated against rabies, their numbers, as well as the number of rabies cases will continue to increase.
In dog population management, the concept and benefits of an area based ABC program may be easier to understand if we compare it to a "vaccination" against the disease of overpopulation.  We know scientifically that over 70% of the dog population, which includes any unsupervised or partially supervised dogs in any given demographical area, must be sterilized in order to stop the population increases.  By sterilizing over 70% of an area's dog population the birth rate will be affected sufficiently to bring about a population decrease within that area.

The positive outcome of this type of program will be that any successful mating of the remaining 30% of the dogs is reduced to the point that births will only occur at a rate which will replace normal attrition.

The 70% rule works just as well when applied to the rabies control issue and should be considered the minimum standard when it comes to vaccinating the dog population against rabies.

The 70% concept is extremely insightful into success or failure as it relates to pet overpopulation, as well as rabies control and should be completely understood by participating NGO's, government officials and the general public.

Why Area Based?

The most realistic approach for implementing our program in order to eventually reach the total dog population is through a systematic and organized area based method.  By concentrating efforts area by area each NGO can systematically and massively sterilize and vaccinate the stray dog population one area at a time to achieve the over 70% goal.  If their sterilization and vaccination efforts in each zone can be accomplished within one breeding cycle (an approximate 6 month period), the result will have an immediate visual and measurable impact.

Prior experience has already shown us sterilizing and vaccinating dogs using an unsystematic approach without concentrating efforts area by area will lead to failure.  However, even when using the area based approach, the only ingredient that insures success is surpassing the magic 70% mark.

Another extremely important point to always remember is that unless the sterilizations in each area are completed within the target timeframe of 6 months, the result will be a population surge rather than reduction.  It has been shown that up to the 70% point, reducing the number of litters born tends to enhance the survival rate of the rest.  Pregnant and nursing mothers have less competition, so find more readily available food sources.  Better nourished pups are less vulnerable to disease and because they are nursed longer and leave their mothers later, are less likely to fall victim to other types of accident. Therefore, until over 70% of any area’s population of stray dogs are altered, sterilizing some, but not all can actually bring a reproduction surge.

This is often an unexpected surprise to organizations and officials who think they can make a difference by sterilizing dogs randomly without a properly organized and thought out plan.

As we have already stated, sterilizing and vaccinating over 70% of the free roaming dog population in any given area or zone within one breeding cycle is the minimum standard for success.  Exceed 70% and the effort will succeed, fall short of 70%, however, and the effort is doomed to fail.

The following data shows the number of dogs vaccinated and sterilized during the past 4 years under the Society for Stray Canine Birth Control.

2001 - 2002:  8,875 dogs 
2002 - 2003: 11,014 dogs 
2003 - 2004: 12,538 dogs
2004 - 2005: 16,905 dogs have been vaccinated and sterilized up through February, 2005.  The target number for up through March 30, 2005 is set at 18,000 dogs.

Let’s Discuss Habitat Control and What It Entails:


As we consider habitat control we must understand humans are the only species which generate huge quantities of edible waste/garbage.  If not contained and disposed of properly it becomes a natural attraction to many species of animals seeking food, the stray dog being just one of many.  The production of garbage is very high in cities compared to villages and this increased garbage generation correspondingly increases the survival and reproduction rates of stray dogs by increasing the carrying capacity of the environment, thus leading to population increases.

The stray dogs living in the cities find food from garbage that has been thrown out from private residences, restaurants, hotels, butcher shops, slaughter houses, etc.  Water is readily available from broken water pipes, drains, etc. and shelter is available in numerous drains, ditches, old buildings and various other places.  Hence, city living actively supports stray dogs.

On the other hand, the stray dog population is never high in forests or thinly populated areas.  Raising successful litters in a truly feral state without direct or indirect assistance from man in the form of food and shelter is very difficult and is therefore self limiting.
What Does This Tell Us?

It’s really very simple.  As long as you have rats, open air disposal of either animal or human feces, and large amounts of easily accessible food waste and/or garbage, you will have stray dogs, many of which are sick and diseased, because you will be maintaining the conditions which are conducive to their reproduction.  If you take control of the food sources you can exert absolute control over the dog population.  Decrease the number of available food sources and you can decrease the number of stray dogs.  The overall sanitation conditions of an area are very important and it is essential we keep our surroundings clean and free of garbage and waste food.  Habitat control is possibly the single most important component when it comes to successful Dog Control.  In fact, it is possible to eliminate stray dog populations, simply by sterilizing them and allowing them to hold their habitat with diminished reproductive capacity while correcting the habitat conditions, i.e., ample food sources, which permitted them to proliferate in the first place. 

In order to control the habitat and make it less appealing and non supportive to the dog population, there must be a massive effort to insure all food sources are eliminated.  A proper system of garbage disposal must be expanded and the public must be educated through the mass media and other means on the importance of maintaining clean neighborhoods and how it corresponds to the dog population. 

The Last Major Component - Pet Registration:

A Pet Registration Program is beneficial in various ways.  Most specifically, pet registration can be used along with other population survey tools in estimating the total dog population.  The total dog population of an area must be estimated accurately in order to define targets for Dog Population Management Programs.  Population estimates are essential in defining targets for both sterilization and rabies control.  If we are going to insure we sterilize, vaccinate and then annually revaccinate over 70% of the total dog population it is then imperative we have accurate documentation as to the total dog population.

Pet Registration should also be used as a tool in educating the public on how vaccinating their pet against rabies plays a vital role in controlling the spread of rabies.  The Pet Registration Program’s ongoing publicity campaign should consistently stress these points, thus allowing pet registration to be used as a positive educational tool.

Pet registration is also a means of tying a specific dog to a specific person.  Registration records can be used to tie individual dogs to their respective owners.  This is useful in several different ways.  Dogs found wandering can easily be returned to their owners or their owners can be contacted to pick their dog up from the appropriate authority.  Registration also offers a way of easily notifying pet owners that it is time to have their pets revaccinated and re-registered.  It is much easier to find the owner or caretaker of a dog than it is to find a specific dog that needs revaccination.

Now that we know what needs to be done to implement a successful Dog Control Program, how would we evaluate the success of the program?  What visible indicators would we see to know we are succeeding?

Positive progress will be noted through the following indicators:
• Local authorities, NGO’s and the public should progressively see a lower number of dogs in the streets and authorities should note a fall in the number of  complaints received about dogs. 
• There should be a noticeable improvement in the health of the remaining dogs, there will be a reduction in the number of puppies being born and a reduction in the number of stray dogs needing rescue and/or veterinary care. 

• As the public becomes more educated on the benefits of a Dog Control Program, there will be an increased number of owners complying with pet registration regulations and thus becoming accessible to health measures such as annual rabies revaccination, etc.
• Education and a successful program will also result in more dogs being presented by owners for sterilization and other health related treatments.

In Closing: 
It should be noted, that even though we have not specifically mentioned it here as a major component of a successful dog control program, education is definitely a major ingredient.  Every opportunity must be taken to continually educate the public through mass media and various other means.  With the successful implementation of each of the four major components mentioned in this presentation additional educational opportunities arise.  These opportunities should not be missed.  Educating the public on the benefits of the four major components of dog control, specifically how the program will benefit them, along with what the programs entail and what they can do to help will make the implementation and success much easier to achieve.

As an example, in the U.S. more than 70% of dogs and owned cats are vaccinated against rabies.  In addition, nearly 70% of the owned dogs are sterilized, as are more than 85% of the owned cats.  It must be clearly understood, however, that these animals are not vaccinated and sterilized because the law requires it.  Rather, in the U.S. pet dogs and cats are vaccinated and sterilized because people who keep them have been convinced by their veterinarians, through educational campaigns and by their friends and neighbors that vaccinating and sterilizing their pets is the socially responsible and considerate thing to do.  In other words, the progress made in the U.S. has been a triumph of education.  So...... EDUCATE, EDUCATE, EDUCATE.
Editors Note:
  Will Delhi be successful in humanely responding to their dog overpopulation problem?  It all depends on the direction they go from here.  Act now and go in the right direction and they can be successful.  To do otherwise guarantees a continuation and acceleration of the problems they currently face.


It is one of the beautiful compensations of this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. --Charles Dudley Warner