By Avanthi Jayasuriya –
Canine strays have been a perennial concern in urban and suburban areas of Sri Lanka due to the links to dog attacks and the spread of rabies. Adding to this issue is the recent incidence of “community dogs” frequenting public places, which has been sought to address through various government policies and strategies. Regarding the efforts to curb the canine stray population and the spread of rabies in Sri Lanka, the question arises as to how the national policies and strategies with regard to canine strays integrate the well-being of the animals.
Government Policies on Canine Strays
As a strategy to suppress the spread of rabies, the Rabies Ordinance of 1893 allowed stray dogs to be seized and disposed of, underscoring inherent cruelty in the means of elimination of stray dogs. However, in 2006 a presidential order was passed to implement a “no-kill policy” with regard to the stray dog issue. With the lobbying of animal activists this national policy highlighted a more humane approach to the treatment of the canine strays of Sri Lanka. The culling method operationalised under earlier laws was replaced by a catch-neuter-vaccinate-release method (CNVR). Statistics point to the dramatic decline in reported cases of rabies With only five cases of human rabies recorded in the first half of 2016 compared with 24 in all of 2015.
Following a decision taken by the Cabinet in 2015, Minister of Local Government and Provincial Councils, Faiszer Musthapha, was requested by the cabinet to present a proposal on managing the stray dog population particularly with regard to avoiding the inconvenience experienced by the general public due to stray dogs found in public. Accordingly, the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government decided to amend the existing ordinance related to rabies and the ordinance related registering dogs.
National Policy to Control Stray Dogs
In 2016, Minister Faiszer Musthapha announced his decision to implement a national policy to control stray dogs. As per the new amendments, actions to control dogs with no owners would be taken. In addition, Provisions to ensure that rabies vaccination is compulsory when registering dogs were introduced. Moreover, the appointment of a National Advisory Committee including members from the Provincial Councils and Local Government Ministry, Health, Nutrition and Indigenous Medicine Ministry, Livestock and Rural Community Development Ministry, and the Animal Health to regulate, instruct and to supervise the actions that are taken to prevent and control Rabies.
Animal Welfare Advisory Committee
In January 2017, the Minister Faiszer Musthapha, met with multiple Animal Welfare Activists to converse about the stray dog overpopulation problem. During this dialogue, the Minister reiterated the need for short term and long term solutions for the current overpopulation issue of dogs in public places (hospitals, parks, markets, etc). The Minister stated that the strategies implemented by the government focused on a humane mechanism for the animals where no animal will be killed.. Additionally, he reinstated that an advisory committee which also include independent activist will be appointed to advice and monitor a practical short & long term decision. As a first step to appointing an advisory committee the Minister visited the dog shelters located in Ahangama, Midigama, Kongashena, Puwakwatte on the 31st of January 2017.
Enacting the Animal Welfare Bill
With the government’s campaign on addressing the over-population of stray dogs and “avoiding inconvenience” to the general public caused by “community dogs”, the urgent need for a comprehensive Animal Welfare Bill is felt at large. The Animal Welfare Bill which is currently approved by the Cabinet and awaits enactment is a good place to start addressing the issue in a humane and a manner which is not cruel torwards animals. The Bill is at present at the Legal Draftman and it would be needed to make its progress.
While due appreciation needs to be given to Minister Faiszer Musthapha’s efforts in addressing the issue of canine strays and eradication of rabies through setting up an advisory committee, the need for an Animal Welfare Committee which has been proposed under the Animal Welfare Bill still remains vital in order to ensure that the welfare of animals in Sri Lanka is safeguarded.