Pets and strays: persistent problem in Addis
Nahom Tiruneh lost his dog Jackie a few months ago. Jackie was a 4-year-old mongrel living with Nahom and his 5 family members in the Piassa area. Nahom and his family searched for her for 3 days before deciding to wait for her to return home and then finally giving up on that idea. “She could have wandered off, joined other dogs next to the garbage dump. Or she could have been walked away with one of the homeless kids,” Nahom speculates.
But, he is also aware that Jackie might be dead. He knows it is possiblethat municipality workers exterminating stray dogs could have killed her. Nahom’s story is not unique to the city. In fact, this kind of occurrence is so commonplace that there is a short film reenacting the same story. ‘Where is My Dog?’ a film directed by Miguel Llansó and Yohannes Feleke, illustrates the heartache pet owners go through in search of lost pets assumed to be long dead.
In the film, Tekola loses his beloved dog Leman and goes to uncommon lengthssearching for his dog. He distributes posters with Leman’s photo among street children, offers a 3000 Birr reward for whoever successfully locates his dog; he talks to municipality animal surveillance workers, all the while followed by Llansó and Yohannes’s cameras.
The number of stray dogs in the city has grown exponentially even though the city administration has attempted to curb the problem in several manners.
The Addis Ababa City Administration has been systematically exterminating stray dogs in the past six months in conjunction with the city’s office for sanitation, parks and health bureau. In a recent announcement by the office, 7,800 stray dogs have been successfully disposed of in the last six months.
The major concern that instigated this action has been the health and safety of residents. Rabid dogs or dogs infected with other diseases can become a public health hazard. Thousands of Ethiopians are infected with rabies each year and an estimated 2,700 of them die annually. There have been several efforts to decrease the prevalence of rabies in Ethiopia.
The Center for Disease Control’s Poxvirus and Rabies Branch has been working with the Addis Ababa city municipality to create an effective national rabies elimination strategy that includes the vaccination of dogs. Trainings of animal surveillance officers and veterinarians in the city on how to safely catch, vaccinate and release stray dogs has been in action since 2017; and over 7,000 dogs have been vaccinated through this initiative, thus far. The CDC is also working to establish a rabies diagnostic laboratory to assist with mass vaccination campaigns nationwide.
Lacks of awareness, among those bitten by rabid dogs, means that the majority do not seek medical help. Others simply do not have access to healthcare facilities. At least, 70 percent of the dogs must be vaccinated to stop the transmission of canine rabies.
In a statement to the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, the city administration also called for residents’ assistance in locating areas with high infestation of stray dogs. The administration had faced problems in getting the right kind of medicineto kill the dogs in the past month and the extermination measure will continue at full force once funding for the medicine is provided.
According to Nadi Hailegorigis (DVM), a veterinary doctor practicing in the Addis Ababa, the poison method is not the best solution. “The Strychnine chemical is expensive,” he says, offering an explanation for the problems the city is facing to get sufficient supply. He also adds that the poison takes a long time to take effect and it has indirect risk to humans too. Dogs that have been affected can in turn spread some amount to their human companions on the streets.
Nadi says that the lack of rescue operations or shelters for homeless pets in the city has led to these violent measures. He and few activists working with animalshave condemned the actions of the city. The action had caused a sizable outrage on social media and a petition has been circulating to put an immediate stop to the practice. The doctor is planning on speaking to the mayor Takele Uma on a more humane approach.
“If we can gather all the stray dogs in one center and build a shelter we won’t need to poison them. All we would need is animal birth control to stop further breeding. I and some other colleagues will be willing to provide health services if the government can only give us the right medicines,” he proposes.
These activities have also faced harsh judgment from some residents citing there are several important issues facing the city including homelessness and unemployment. In the film, Tekola is noticeably angry when personal friend and musician Sileshi Demssie, (also known as Gash Abera Molla) jokingly sings a song about searching for a lost dog. The issue might seem light at first glance and against the backdrop of everything else but humans form serious connections to their pets.
Parasites and other diseases other than rabies can also be passed from canines to humans. A 2016 research published on the Ethiopian Veterinary Journal found that,outof the 252 pet owners interviewed 70 percent did not take their pets for regular visits to the vet. “Most of dog owners in Addis Ababa give a little care for their dog’s health presumably due to the fact that they don’t believe that their dogs need medical treatment when they get sick. Most of them believed rabies as the sole disease of dog and anti-rabies vaccination can protect their dogs from any health problem,” the research concludes.
Pet owners typically throw out female puppies with the assumption that they are ineffective guards in a household. Usually found around garbage dumps or similar areas of the city, they are likely to get fed on a semi-regular basis, these dogs go on to exacerbate the city’s stray problem. Dogs can be given Animal Birth Control (ABC) or be spayed or neutered to limit the number of births. The municipality has adopted these measures but lack of manpower, proper facilities and adequate financing have been hurdles.
The city administration’s announcement also stated that pet owners could get pets registered at their Woreda offices. The issue of pets inadvertently getting killed along with strays has plagued many residents of the city. Few pets are kept inside people’s homes and dogs can usually be found roaming the neighborhood.
Nadi has worked with animals for the past 7 years. His veterinary practice offers house visits, vaccinations, tagging, grooming, surgery and other services. He further explains that if dogs in these shelters can be adopted and there are no other markets for purchasing dogs, the problem can be curbed. “Dogs are seen as objects in this country but they’re really part of society. They aren’t just guards. They offer support to their owners. They can identify autism in humans. There is a big lack of awareness in our society.”
While this issue may pale in comparison to the voluminous problems the city faces, the human risk to diseases and the unchecked breeding of strays are real. An essential element for the success of humane stray dog management comes from the community, Nadi argues.“Proper dog or cat pound facilities where strays can be taken, vaccinated and kept until claimed by owners or adopted by people must be established. The onus rests on individuals and interest groups to campaign for the adoption of humane measures and spread awareness among pet owners and city residents,” Nadi concludes.