I can see the outrage by animals lovers everywhere after they read the  AP headline:

Baghdad kills 58,000 stray dogs in 3-month span

It’s all about rabies.

One reason that Islam says that dogs are “unclean” was because stray dogs carry rabies and other diseases. (These edicts did not go against hunting or watch dogs, by the way).

The AP article notes that with the security problems in Baghdad, the dog control program was discontinued, while at the same time the increase in security and prosperity meant that there was more food for stray dogs to eat. This resulted in a population explosion of stray dogs, with a resulting increase in attacks on people and cases of rabies.

In the US, stray dogs are collected by dog catchers and euthanized; in the third world, they are shot or poisoned to control there numbers.

So how bad is the problem? There were 17000 cases of dogbites reported in Iraq in 2007; 75% of those bitten received rabies vaccine, and 22 people died of rabies that year. But with an increase in stray dogs, the disease could increase.

Rabies is not common in Iraqi dogs, but one service dog imported by a soldier developed rabies during quarantine.

In contrast, here in the Philippines, in 1997, 300 people died of rabies, resulting in a government campaign to vaccinate dogs, to collect stray dogs, and to encourage those bitten by dogs to get the rabies vaccine. This has helped: in 2007, 12,000 were exposed to rabies, but only 12 reported deaths. There are clinics for folks to get free rabies shots, and education campaigns on TV and radio encouraging folks to seek treatment. In addition, veterinarians go into farm areas to give free rabies shots for all the dogs.

Stray dogs are collected and euthanized by authorities here in the Philippines, but this costs money and requires facilities that are not available in Baghdad, hence the resort to shooting and placing out poisoned meat for animals, after locals are warned that this is going to be done in the neighborhoods.

In rural areas, catching dogs can be a problem. When I worked in Africa, the vets would vaccinate all the dogs in the area, paint their backs, and then send in sharpshooters to kill any unpainted dog.

How serious do folks in the Philippines take the problem? Well, a health aid visiting our home was bitten by “Fluffy” (a small terrier) whose rabies vaccine was out of date, so we had to pay for her rabies shots (about $100). We had vaccinated our watch dogs, but Fluffy had just had a litter, so wasn’t given her immunizations.

Rabies is 100 percent fatal, and is a lousy way to die. So keeping stray dogs (and cats) under control and requiring people to vaccinate their pets is important.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines

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