HUNDREDS of dogs are being killed in Penang. Yes, the state has a rabies outbreak. But is culling really the answer to the problem?
Following two cases of rabies in northern Seberang Prai and Balik Pulau, the state government has given approval to the state veterinary department to destroy all stray dogs within the state.
All dog owners are also required to have their pets (aged three months and above) vaccinated and tagged.
All pet dogs are also to be kept indoors or caged, and must be on a lead for walks.
Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng in a press conference warned pet owners if their dogs are let loose outside private property, owners risk their pets being caught and killed as well.
However, the big question is whether destroying all strays will actually keep the disease at bay.
A World Health Organisation study showed that killing dogs has no effect on rabies transmission or overall stray population and can even be counter-productive.
This is because new dogs quickly move into the area where killing has taken place to take advantage of the increased food resources and territory.
And this mixing of new dogs in the area may even increase the risk of rabies due to fighting over territory and mates.
However, if the authorities vaccinate the at least 70% of the dogs in the area, it will act as a barrier to disease transmission and stop rabies.
Several studies, reports, and real-life examples have proved that vaccinations is the most effective way to prevent rabies from spreading, and the best way to protect the human population in the area.
Looking back in how Bali dealt with their rabies outbreak in 2008, where there were two cases of rabies infection in humans – the authorities did not have enough vaccines, so mass killings of strays were carried out.
In 2010, the situation in Bali worsened with 11 human rabies cases a month. Because of the mass killings, rabies went out of control and spread drastically.
A total of 82 deaths were reported and Bali had to seek help from international experts, which recommended vaccinating at least 70% of the stray population.
The next year, in 2011, the number of rabies cases dropped to a single human case a month.
In 2013, there was just one human rabies case for the whole year.
This goes to show how vaccinating strays is a far more effective manner of eradicating rabies than culling them.
The killings of all the dogs in Penang is not only expensive and ineffective – but also cruel. These dogs are innocent, and some of them probably do not have rabies.
The state authorities in Penang have repeatedly ignored the outcry from both NGOs and the public to stop the senseless killings.
It is extremely distressing and heartbreaking to the local community to have the dogs in their neighbourhood killed.
I know many animal-lovers who feed and care for the stray dogs in their neighbourhood everyday without fail. Many would spend their own money to feed the animals and nurse them back to health from injury.
Having the dogs they care for hauled up and killed is devastating.
I believe that the only way to address growing stray population problem and to control the outbreak of rabies, is to have a mass dog vaccination and to neuter the adult stray population.
It is also necessary to educate the public and promote responsible pet ownership. Vaccinate and neuter your family pets, and don't abandon them.
So Penang, I urge you – please stop the culling of dogs.
If Penang can focus their resources and manpower towards vaccinating the strays rather than killing them, I'm sure it will be a far more effective solution to stop rabies from spreading further.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own