There is an old adage that barking dogs seldom bite, but this saying may not hold in Bhutan where statistics show close to 7,000 bites in a year which means every year one in every 100 Bhutanese gets bitten.
The issue of dog attacks in Bhutan are caused by two issues. One is a dog management problem and the other is an accountability problem.
On the management front our inadequate stray dog sterilization programs of the past have led to an explosion in the number of stray and feral dog population in both urban and rural areas.
There was no effective national or even local strategy to deal with the issue, and the problem kept multiplying and so did the dog attack incidents against humans and livestock.
The measures of the past included trying to kill them which turned off a Buddhist population, and then later patch work sterilization programs. Some even resorted to rounding up dogs and dumping them at other sites or areas.
Here, the National Accelerated Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Program has come as the first coherent national strategy where 51,000 dogs have been sterilized and counting. In addition, pet dogs are being micro chipped for responsible ownership. This is all good and welcome and will have an impact.
On the second issue of accountability the responsible people be it pet owners, local authorities, national agencies, local communities and other organizations were not held accountable.
The law forbids feeding of random stray or feral dogs in normal circumstances as it contributes to their population explosion, but it is still happening openly.
The law instead encourages people to take ownership and responsibility of stray dogs’ full time, but this is not happening.
Pet owners know they have aggressive dogs, but they do not take adequate care to secure them well and so innocent people get bitten.
Agencies, local authorities and communities known of aggressive and feral packs, but nobody lifts a finger to address the issue until a child is killed or livestock is killed.
The buck keeps getting passed, no one is accountable and laws are not enforced and the problem multiplies.
It is now high time that we address both the management and accountability issues and start enforcing the laws and holding people and organizations accountable.
This in the interest of both humans and dogs.
“It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable.”