THE recent decision by the local authorities to put stray dogs to sleep in order to curb the spread of rabies in the northern states has saddened and angered many animal lovers.
Various anti-killing posters are currently being uploaded on Facebook.
Sadly, many animal lovers who are against the decision are also slinging insults at the authorities and others who are in favour of the culling order.
Being an animal lover myself and one who has had five cats and a couple of dogs, I think we should all approach this matter rationally.
Rabies is the inflammation of the brain and spinal cord due to infection by rabies-related viruses.
The virus can be carried by various warm blooded animals, such as dogs, cats, foxes, raccoons and bats.
The virus can be transmitted to humans through open wounds and transfer of rabid animal body fluids on to mucosal membranes (nose, mouth and eyes).
An infected patient can carry the virus from three to 12 weeks without the development of the disease symptoms.
In some cases, this incubation period may last up to 19 years. But in most patients, the onset of the disease will occur within a year of exposure.
There is no specific treatment for rabies and this disease is frequently fatal. Only supportive care is provided when a patient is infected.
About 90% of the 55,000 rabies-caused death reported annually are related to rabid dogs.
Recent studies have suggested that the reduction of population density by culling is ineffective in controlling the spread of rabies.
However, we should take into consideration the situation in Malaysia when looking at this matter and proposing only mass vaccination to prevent the spread of the virus.
There are an estimated 25,000 stray dogs in Penang alone. Only 200 veterinary services personnel have been drafted to help in the capture and euthanization of the stray dogs in the three northern states.
Hence, there is a shortage of personnel for this operation. The task of capturing all the stray dogs itself will be extremely challenging.
It will be very costly to vaccinate all the strays. After vaccination, the authorities will also have the issue of isolating the animals.
Even with all the pounds and shelters added together, there might not be enough space to house 25,000 strays in Penang.
Should all vaccinated animals be placed in shelters, the sudden surged in animals will also impose a severe monetary burden (food, medical treatment, facility maintenance and personnel wages).
Although it has been reported that some NGOs have raised RM400,000 to help vaccinate the strays, the long term cost for the entire operation would most probably exceed that amount.
As the disease has rapidly spread across the three states within a couple of weeks, the call to stop the euthanization operation may not be wise.
The best option would probably be to euthanize older stray dogs, but vaccinate younger ones and isolate them in pounds or shelters.
I hope that all animal lovers who are against the euthanization method would stop calling the others murderers and inciting hatred among other people.
It is almost effortless to write “Please stop killing the dogs” on Facebook and share posters with anti-culling slogans.
However, these do not help solve the outbreak or save the animals.
One will only be truly able to understand the logistics involved to protect the animals if one goes out to the field to help in the operations.
As much as we want others to respect the rights of the stray dogs to live, we must also respect the rights of others who want to protect themselves, their families and their pet cats and dogs from this lethal disease.
On a side note, the Veterinary Department should also advise cat owners on the need to vaccinate their pet cats against the disease.