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A helping hand for man’s best friend

Meet the Edinburgh researchers dedicated to ensuring animal welfare is maintained throughout international efforts to manage populations of street dogs.

Indian street dog
One of India's estimated 30 million street dogs

Dogs present an international dilemma. In many countries they are considered “man’s best friend”, and pet numbers are increasing along with veterinary treatment possibilities. Yet in some parts of the world they are considered pests – a public health problem associated with bites and the risk of disease or parasite transmission. Researchers from the University’s Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education (JMICAWE) have produced a film about their remarkable work in India, and, below, they explain the project within the wider context of the JMICAWE’s work.

Street Dog

The short film Street Dog was produced by JMICAWE researchers to explain their work with the Humane Society International in Jamshedpur, India, gathering data on the welfare of dogs as they go through a typical “trap-neuter-return” (TNR) population control programme.  The film is narrated by veterinarian Heather Bacon and veterinary nurse Hayley Walters, of JMICAWE, which is based in the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Medicine. The film highlights the challenges faced by the animals, the communities in which they live and the organisations responsible for TNR.

Humane population control

India is said to be home to more than 30 million street dogs, many of which coexist with people in the country’s booming cities. Indians experience rates of dog bites that are among the highest  in the world. Thirty-six per cent of the world’s rabies deaths occur in India, according to the World Health Organisation, and dogs are considered to be the main source.

The life of a street dog can be a short and difficult one: struggling daily with dodging the traffic, avoiding encounters with other animals and conflicts with people who are often terrified of becoming a victim of a dog bite, which carries the risk of contracting rabies.

It is essential that we understand the nature of these interactions in different contexts and countries, if we are to explore how we can use evidence-based humane approaches for managing public concerns and animal welfare issues relating to increasing dog numbers.

 Professor Natalie Waran Director of JMICAWE

Jamshedpur is a city of more than 1 million people in the east of India. According to the animal welfare organisation Humane Society International (HSI), Jamshedpur is is also home to an estimated 25,000 street dogs, 11,000 of which have been successfully sterilised and vaccinated since 2013.

This method of dog population management, called trap-neuter-return (TNR) is advocated by animal welfare organisations and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). However, with high targets for the TNR programmes in many countries, there is a need to ensure that we are not putting individual dog welfare at risk in order to achieve population control.

To investigate this, in 2013, the Dogs Trust awarded the JMICAWE a grant and we sent a team to Jamshedpur to work with HSI to gather data on the welfare of dogs as they go through a typical TNR programme, from being caught on the streets, to being released back after surgery.

It is often not possible to talk about animal welfare without also considering the human dimension.  This is clearly illustrated when considering the complex relationship between dogs and people. It is essential that we understand the nature of these interactions in different contexts and countries, if we are to explore how, through research and policy, we can use evidence-based humane approaches for managing public concerns and animal welfare issues relating to increasing dog numbers.

Professor Natalie Waran Director of JMICAWE

It is the JMICAWE’s hope that the research that has been conducted will inform the design and implementation of TNR programmes globally, so that the highest standards of animal welfare are upheld whilst also ensuring dog numbers are managed.

Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education

The Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

The Centre aims to promote an evidence-based approach to decision making about animal welfare and to develop methods for enhancing standards of animal welfare both nationally and internationally, alongside partner organisations such as the Dogs Trust, Humane  Society International and other international animal welfare groups as well as government departments and universities.

More information about the JMICAWE, including its work in Asia and South America, is available on the Centre’s web pages.

Jeanne Marchig Centre website