Rabies Kills Tens of Thousands Yearly. Vaccinating Dogs Could Stop It.

Rahul Sehgal, the India-Asia director for the Humane Society International, who is based in Ahmedabad, said, “In other places people don’t feed dogs.” But, he said, “I haven’t seen a single place in India where dogs are not fed by individuals or community.”

For example, a family living by the side of the road in Vadodara, where the Humane Society was conducting a sterilization campaign, shared their life and what food they could earn, or were given, with a few dogs. They said quite definitely that they did not own the dogs, but they did want to know when the black dog taken away to be neutered would be returned.

Not everyone in India loves dogs, of course. Packs of dogs have attacked people. And occasionally communities erupt with violence against dogs. In Kerala in 2016 when several people died from being mauled by dogs vigilantes engaged in widely publicized killing of street dogs.

There are about 35 million dogs in India, Dr. Sehgal estimated, compared with 90 million dogs in the United States. India is only a third the size of the United States, geographically, and three times the size in population, so the number of dogs per suburban acre, or city block, is about the same, and the number of dogs per person far less. But any visitor walking through a neighborhood in India could be forgiven for thinking that India has a much denser dog population. The difference is that in India, the dogs are mostly outside; in the United States, they’re mostly indoors.

Rabies campaigns in other countries often involve getting owners to bring dogs to central vaccination points, but that poses problems in India, because of the lack of individual ownership. The answer, according to Mission Rabies, is to send out teams to find and vaccinate street dogs, using a variety of techniques with about 40 percent requiring capture by nets.

The vaccination workers in Goa first cover neighborhoods in pairs, traveling by foot or on a scooter, calling to friendly dogs who will approach and allow themselves to be held and vaccinated and talking to people who own or feed dogs. All vaccinated dogs get a paint marking that will last for a week or so. When I went along during this phase, we picked up puppies to vaccinate, were invited in for tea by one devoted dog lover and encountered none of the frantic barking that accompanies the net catchers.

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