'Shooting will not solve the stray dogs problem in Oman'

Oman Monday 03/April/2017 23:08 PM
By: Times News Service
'Shooting will not solve the stray dogs problem in Oman'

Muscat: Scared, hungry and in hiding, this young dog faces an uncertain future which could be a painful death at the end of a sniper’s rifle.
While some complain that stray dogs are causing a menace in their neighbourhoods, others are taking to social media to highlight their distress at the suffering which goes with controlling population numbers with a gun.
But putting stray dogs down is only a temporary solution, a head veterinarian in Muscat has insisted, saying more humane efforts will actually work better.
Dr. Elke Heitz, head veterinarian at Al Qurum Veterinary Clinic, believes that putting stray dogs to death has historically shown no improvement regarding the control of a stray population of animals worldwide.
“Putting dogs down is a short term solution, and seems to be implemented in a less accurate manner that causes harm to animals. It will likely not result in any long term success.”
Dr. Heitz’ comments come at a difficult time for stray animals in the country.
Animal rights advocates such as Nada Al Moosa have been campaigning for the safer “trap-neuter-release” system for years.
Al Moosa said, “There isn’t a danger regarding dogs. But the situation with rising number of strays is getting worse, mostly because as their number increases, we are also expanding into their habitat and areas, without respecting their lives.”
Dr. Heitz also mentioned that this problem is not unique to Oman.
European experience
“European countries have faced the same issue regarding the rise of stray animals, and in fact probably had a more severe situation, especially regarding the shooting of strays. Many countries could do much better on their stray animal control.”
“However, with a complex long term plan, animal populations have been reduced in a humane manner that doesn’t require putting them down,” Dr. Heitz added.
Instead, Dr. Heitz suggested that government policy be involved regarding the neutering of both pets, as well as stray animals.
“Pet owners must neuter their pets as a starting point. If a law enforces this, it will guarantee that pets aren’t producing more animals. What ends up happening many times is that the offspring are abandoned as strays instead of being given care, which complicates the situation further.”
Both Dr. Heitz and Al Moosa said that the trap-neuter-release movement is the best way forward.
“The solution is trap-neuter-release, area by area. There must also be education and awareness with the people who live here that they have to coexist with animals peacefully. At the end of the day, these animals were created by God, and the earth belongs to all living beings,” said Al Moosa.
Dr. Heitz explained that it is crucial that a controlled group of strays are released into the streets again, as shooting them down or removing them from the area only makes the stray situation worse.
“Neutering suppresses territorial behavior by animals. The controlled group would therefore occupy territory and would outnumber any stray unneutered animals. In the meantime, the dog population would naturally die off and keep at a reasonable population level,” Dr. Heitz said.
“Of course, new dogs will try to invade, but this is where group monitoring and group feeding comes in. Then any new incoming dogs would be easily identified and neutered,” she added.
Another animal rights activist, Varsha Karnik, echoed this need for positive perception of stray animals.
“I have stray cats and dogs living in my house, and they all live in peace. I foster puppies who go into homes here and in other countries and their adoptive families love them,” she said.
“I also have dogs living on the streets by my house, they’re neutered and the people in the community feed them and the children do play with the dogs. Even if they stay on the streets, they can be a part of the community, as long as they are neutered,” Karnik added.
Dr. Heitz however warned that even many stray dogs may be adopted into homes, some of them are used to roaming and too shy to live in households.
“What should be the focus is to neuter the females at the least, and release the ones that are not able to live in households. We need to guarantee that this street population stays unharmed, as this will ensure no new puppies,” she explained.
Nada Al Moosa explained that many of animal rights advocates spend hours and personal funds rescuing injured animals who had been shot.
“What ends up happening is we either have to put the dog down due to their severe injury, to save them from longer suffering, or we’d treat them for injuries and hope to be able to resettle them after, if the treatment is successful.”
She explained that though veterinary clinics have been supportive, and have offered generous discounts to treat stray animals, there is more work to be done in order to change community perceptions.
“The majority of the population may be afraid of dogs. But we’ve been doing this for years, going to the more dangerous wadi areas where dogs are, and we’ve never been bitten or harmed. The dogs are timid, and shy. It all depends on socializing, and training, and treating them well,” Al Moosa explained.
The animal rights activists also explained that over the years this endeavor to rescue stray animals has been personal in nature, and deeply affecting.
“We don’t have a shelter or a formal way of helping. However, we’ve personally managed to rescue animals, and relocate them despite the hardships. We spend hundreds of rials trying to personally help, and it’s a devastating situation unless the community is involved in caring for them too,” said Krystal Brown, who has rescued and fostered stray animals in the past.
Dr. Weitz suggested, “Ideally the government would allow one area to be handled by any welfare group where the strays there are left in peace, and this area could demonstrate for further projects how the neutering scheme works successfully.”
Though the ROP declined to comment, in an earlier article on the Times of Oman, the ROP suggested that people should put collars on stray dogs if they do not want the dogs shot. They also said that they regularly received reports about dogs being aggressive, and warned citizens to be careful with them.