If you grew up primarily in western communities the concept of dog culling might strike you as some kind of a morbid joke but unfortunately, the brutal practice runs rampant in third world communities such as Bangladesh. This is not the familiar tale we’ve come to know where man and dog become comrades with a bond that has no equal. Quite the contrary. In Bangladesh and other developing countries, dogs are seen as carriers of rabies and as a problem that must be contained and ‘removed’. To understand the fear of dogs in Bangladesh we must first understand the fear of rabies.
According to the World Health Organization, there were around 2000 human deaths caused by rabies in 2013 and 98% derived from dog bites. With numbers like those and an ever prevalent lack of information, the misconception that dogs were dangerous infested both local authorities and communities, which caused the illegal practice of ‘dog culling’ to develop as a means to control the excess dog population.
Rubaiya Ahmad, the founder of Obhoyaronno, sits down to talk to me about her very personal experience with dog brutality which led to her creating the only animal welfare charity in Bangladesh. Rubaiya awoke one morning to the horrible news that Kashtanka, a street dog she had adopted and cared for since birth, had been swept up by the Dhaka City Corporation team during one of their routine anti-rabies culling drives. Rubaiya was naturally heartbroken but more so incensed and she recalls the tragic incident as the igniting moment when she decided that ‘enough was enough’ and thus, the birth of Obhoyaronno.
APRIL: What does Obhoyaronno mean and what is your mission?
RUBAIYA: Obhoyaronno is a Bengali word that closely translates to ‘Sanctuary’. It’s an animal welfare foundation that focuses on fighting animal cruelty in Bangladesh. Our mission is to help people recognize the intrinsic value of animals and demonstrate more respect and compassion.
APRIL: Can you tell me more about the program and the work you do?
RUBAIYA: We set up our first clinic in Dhaka in 2012 with help from the Humane Society International, FAO and Dhaka City Corporation. Our program focuses on finding street dogs and bringing them in for sterilization and vaccination. In Bangladesh alone, there are 40,000 homeless dogs and so far we have serviced 18,000 of them. On a day-to-day basis, our team goes out collecting homeless dogs, bring them back to the clinic where we vaccinate and sterilize them before releasing them. We follow up with a post-operative check a few days later to make sure the dogs are healthy.
APRIL: How has the local response been to the foundation and the program itself?
RUBAIYA: The program has been very well received, especially by dog owners from low-income groups who can’t afford vaccination or sterilization.
APRIL: What positive changes have you seen as a result of the foundation?
RUBAIYA: We have seen changes for the better grow at a steady pace over the last few years. It’s not a situation where things can change instantly overnight but overall we have seen a decrease in human-dog conflict, fewer cases of dog bites and an improvement in dog’s health which has been a direct result of the vaccination program. Our community awareness program has also been successful in teaching people the benefits of vaccination and sterilization as well as encouraging pet owners to become more engaged and responsible for their ownership.
APRIL: Have the local authorities been supportive of your movement?
RUBAIYA: Yes, we have seen a greater effort to end dog-culling because more people are starting to pay attention. In 2014, we petitioned Bangladesh’s high court for a national injunction against culling – and won. The court ruled in our favor and agreed to stop all dog-culling in the city.
What started as a small initiative in 2009 has essentially become the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. Some of Obhoyaronno’s greatest achievements to date are securing Dhaka City Corporation’s commitment to end dog killing in Dhaka, setting up the country’s first CNVR clinic to sterilize, vaccinate and treat street dogs, and securing partnerships with government and international development agencies to deliver better education about humane animal treatment.
APRIL: What’s next for Obhoyaronno?
RUBAIYA: Right now the focus is to implement the program all over Bangladesh and update the much-outdated Cruelty to Animals Act 1920 of Bangladesh by working with lawyers, legislators, and the government to increase animal welfare awareness at a policy level. Our goal is to continue the program and expand in other big cities as a catalyst and then have the government in local communities take over and maintaining it.
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