The good news is that the Darjeeling Goodwill Animal Shelter trust (DGAS) in conjunction with One Voice of France has commenced a sterilisation cum vaccination programme, otherwise known as an ABC or Animal Birth Control programme, in Darjeeling. A new centre has been built in Lebong and the ABC programme began in November 2008. In the Lebong ABC centre are all necessary facilities – dispensary/clinic, operating theatre, holding kennels, staff and volunteer accommodation, animal transport ambulance, etc. Dr Yogesh Sharma is the veterinary-surgeon in charge of the DGAS-One Voice ABC Programme.
DGAS is well experienced in conducting ABC programmes. Since about 1999 at its Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) it has been running an ABC programme there. The programme began in the town and spread to surrounding villages. It is an ongoing programme and has the full support of the Kalimpong Municipality. For the last several years there has been no reported incidence of human rabies originating in Kalimpong town and the surrounding villages in which KAS has held its ABC camps. Only last month KAS was visited by Mr. Bimal Gurung
Because the main vector for the spread of rabies is through dog bites the old system of control was the attempted elimination of street dogs by killing them usually in the most inhumane and cruellest of ways. However this method over the years was shown to be completely ineffective. After studies of the problem the World Health Organisation in conjunction with the World Society for Protection of Animals developed guidelines for the management of street dog populations and the control of rabies. Out of these guidelines the ABC programme methodology was developed and adopted by the Animal Welfare Board of India. Furthermore the scientific efficacy of ABC programmes has now been endorsed by prestigious journals such as the British Veterinary Record which has published an article by Dr Jack Reece and Dr Sunil Chawla, the two vets in charge of the successful ABC programme in Jaipur, the first of its kind to achieve a status of no incidence of human rabies in the ABC areas of Jaipur.
How does an ABC programme work? In essence the street dogs are caught, identified by ear notch and tattoo (and sometimes given a collar), vaccinated against rabies, sterilised or neutered by surgical procedure, and after recovery from the operation returned to the same place from which they were caught.
Why are they returned to the street rather than kept impounded? If the dogs are removed and not returned to their ‘territory’, an empty biological space rich in food and shelter, will be created and this will almost certainly filled by other unvaccinated, unsterilized and possibly rabid dogs. On the other hand, when the dogs are returned they will defend their territory, and thus over time a stable, healthy, rabies free dog population will result. They also perform an important role in keeping down rubbish, rats and monkeys.
Since the Darjeeling programme began in November 2008 over 900 ABC dogs have been through the Lebong centre, a remarkable achievement by Dr Yogesh and his team. During this time the usual teething troubles of a new venture have been overcome and emergency cases attended to. The Municipal Corporation has given its blessing to the programme and the people of Darjeeling who have encountered the DGAS-One Voice catching and releasing team in their jeep, usually in the early morning, have co-operated fully.
Dr Sharma hopes to have vaccinated and sterilised 70% of the female dog population within the next two years. Due to limited resources the programme will concentrate on spaying females which is the best way to stabilise the dog population. Male puppies are also sterilised by castration. As resources permit the adult males will be vaccinated.
DGAS is looking to employ another vet, ideally young and willing to undergo training in the procedures involved. Unfortunately it is proving difficult to locate suitable applicants as most vets after graduating tend to join government service rather than an NGO.
By: Jeremy Townend
Darjeeling Goodwill Animal Shelter,