About Me

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Mumbai, India
I'm a landrace dog fancier, birder and amateur arachnologist. Founder of the INDog Project (www.indog.co.in) and the INDog Club. Before that, worked with urban free-ranging dogs of Mumbai from 1993-2007. Also a wildlife conservationist working in the tiger reserves of central India with Satpuda Foundation.

This blog is for aboriginal breed enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah) and INDog-mix mongrels are featured here. The two are NOT the same, do please read the text on the right to understand the difference. Our aim: to create awareness about the primitive natural breed called the Indian Pariah Dog/INDog. I sometimes feature other landrace breeds too.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rabies and the Peruvian mutt

Latin American countries have free-roaming scavenging dogs just as we have - but much more successful rabies control programmes

Above: A dog in the little town of Chivay in the Colca Canyon

Above: People in the Andes keep a lot of livestock: llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep, sometimes cows. Invariably they also keep livestock guardian dogs. This is one of the few dogs I saw which had a pariah-type appearance.

Above: The market in Chivay. This dog was given a bone by the people who owned the meat stall.

Above: Chivay

Above: In another little town, Maca, a dog waits for a handout from a meat seller.

Above: Livestock guardian dog - I took the picture from the car

Above: My favourite - the little boy was as endearing as the dog

Above: Pup belonging to shepherds, in the high Andes

Above: In Cusco

Above: This dog looks as if he's accompanying the police!

Above and below: All these pictures were shot in Cusco in the high Andes

A few minutes drive from the airport into the city of Lima and I see an oddly familiar sight. A dog, without collar or leash or an accompanying human, trotting down the street. He’s a sort of a sheepdog, strong and well fed, and his long shaggy fur is a bit muddy and matted.

Another dog comes trotting to meet him from a nearby lane: a sort-of-a-poodle. And here comes another, a sort-of-a-german shepherd. The three dogs are very pleased to see each other and stand in a little knot on the pavement, sniffing each other and wagging tails vigorously.

Why am I writing about mutts on the other side of the world in a blog about INDogs? Here’s why.

There is one thing common to dog populations around the world: they are all susceptible to rabies. And since they are the animal closest to man, they are also the main reservoir of this disease for us humans.

Peru is very similar to India in two respects. First, there is a large and very visible street dog population. Much less abundant than ours, but still, it is unlikely that you will be able to walk down the streets of Lima, Cusco or Arequipa or small towns like Chivay or Maca without seeing dogs. They come in all shapes and sizes and I tried in vain to identify a primitive type there (the Peruvian Hairless Dog in my earlier post is an ancient indigenous breed but is not found on the road). It is rare to find two dogs in an area who resemble each other, and a typical pack has widely varied sizes and shapes and coats among its members, making me wonder whether these dogs actually do breed on the street. The original dogs of South America were of the generalized dingo-pariah type, but today only a very few in Peru look like pariah-mix dogs, and I saw just two perfect dingo-type dogs, one in Cusco and another near a shanty town in Arequipa.

I never saw a single one which was skinny or diseased in my two weeks in Peru. Many of the dogs seem to be pets who roam unsupervised. Judging by their appearance, I would guess that many ownerless dogs too are actually fed by people, though you can see lots of them tearing open trash bags early in the morning and scrounging for food.

Trash…that brings me to the second resemblance to India. Indians are the undisputed world leaders when it comes to chucking garbage in public places, but in some parts of their country Peruvians offer us stiff competition. Since the human population is smaller than ours they can’t create the impressive dumps that are such a common sight here, but there’s certainly enough food out there to sustain a good population of street dogs.

There seems to be a remarkable tolerance for dogs from what I could see, though I have also read complaints about them in several sites and blogs. I’ve also read some sensible suggestions that people should stop littering as a preventive measure.

Here the similarities end. There is an enormous difference between Peru and India in the official attitude to rabies and its control.

The disease is 100% fatal but also very easily preventable with mass vaccination campaigns for dogs as well as post-exposure treatment of humans. Latin America has done an admirable job of decreasing rabies incidence in the region. According to the World Health Organization’s Expert Consultation Report of 2004: “Over the region, approximately 45 million dogs a year have been vaccinated, resulting in significant declines in canine and human rabies.” I was told in Arequipa (Peru’s second-largest city) that every year the street dogs are vaccinated. WHO attributes the success of Latin America’s rabies control programme to political commitment and efficient planning and execution by the health services. “Key to the success of campaigns in Latin America has been the central role played by the public health sector as a lead agency and community/involvement/empowerment in rabies control activities.”

And what have our Indian authorities done to control this totally preventable disease? Have they followed the example of Latin America? Far from it. In spite of the staggering 20,000+ Indians who are estimated to die of rabies every year, the disease appears to get just a little more importance than acne. Of course there is much bow-wow rhetoric from rabble-rousing politicos about the “street dog menace,” but I’m sure it will come as no surprise that most civic bodies have either completely ignored or else actually opposed the World Health Organization’s recommendations to carry out mass vaccination campaigns for free-roaming dogs. They have had the shrill support of a variety of well-meaning but poorly-informed do-gooders around the country, who have little knowledge of dog behaviour and have probably never stepped into a slum or near a garbage dump. With only a few small animal welfare NGOs struggling to vaccinate the large urban dog populations, and nobody doing anything at all in rural areas, we are light years away from achieving the success of Latin America.

I may be wrong in some of my assumptions about Peru’s street dog population, and since I don’t speak Spanish there were only a limited number of people I could ask for information. If anyone reading this wants to correct anything I’ve written or throw more light on this topic, please feel free to write to me or leave a comment here.

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