July 13, 2007

Animal Birth Control Program: An Explanation

Written By Dr Beth McGennisken BA, BVSc(hons) MRCVS

ABC (animal birth control) & AR (anti-rabies) programs have proven to be the only humane and sustainable method of reducing urban street dog and cat numbers. ABC helps to create a stable friendly rabies-free street animal population.

According to the World Health Organization 55,000 people die in the world every year from rabies. To reduce the risk of rabies in Iquitos all animals passing through this program will be vaccinated with anti-rabies vaccine. As this will significantly increase the cost of the program, we hope to receive government co-operation and be provided with the vaccine free of charge.

In Iquitos we would love to re-home all the street dogs and cats but there are just not enough homes available. ABC is one way to ensure that the street animal population decreases over time. It also means that we can put a stop to the large numbers of puppies and kittens that are born only to starve to death, or die from disease on the streets of Iquitos.

Our aim is to catch/neuter/vaccinate/identify (with collar, ear tattoo & notch) and release street animals back to the same location they were caught.

This is exciting news for Peru because this will be the 1st ABC program of this type to target street dog and cats. We aim to 'go to the dogs' (and to the cats too!). Our mobile neuter clinics go to poor areas where the highest concentration of street animals live (such as food markets and the floating village of Belen) and we will conduct mass sterilization of animals there. We also travel by boat along the Amazon River to take veterinary care and the ABC program to animals in remote jungle villages.

All animals with diseases requiring ongoing treatment such as TVTs (transmissible venereal tumours, severe mange, fractures etc) will be taken to the animal shelter for care. Animals requiring a long stay at the shelter will not be returned to the streets but will be re-homed.

Street animals are re-visited post surgery and at regular intervals to ensure ongoing good health.

Using my knowledge of ABC programs in India & Bhutan, I spent 6 months volunteering in Iquitos at my own expense to promote this program, and to train staff and coordinate visits from teams of foreign veterinary volunteers & Peruvian veterinary students. This will be a sustainable and ongoing project with the aim of producing a healthy friendly stable rabies free street animal population.

This program also aims to teach improved techniques of surgery and sterility to Peruvian veterinarians and vet students so that these vets can promote ABC programs in other parts of Peru. In this way knowledge and skills will be shared and multiplied so that animal welfare can be improved throughout Peru and South America.

The program implemented by Dr. Beth McGennisken continues to be a major success. We estimate that we have sterilized over 3000 strays and owned animals from low-income families. We do this through the frequent free clinics that we hold throught Iquitos and more remote areas of the Amazon region. Many clinics are conducted at our new jungle facility at Cabo Lopez on the Rio Itaya!

There is a big educational component that must accompany this program. Most people do not want to neuter male dogs. They do not consider stray animals part of their responsibility. One owner complained that he did not want a "homosexual dog." We have eye-catching and humerous posters with a fierce looking bulldog that says (in Spanish) "Who says a sterilized dog doesn't have balls?"

Luckily, community attitudes are shifting as people see the difference in the street animal population, which is healthier and which is gradually getting lower in their quantity. We also pass through communities passing out Spanish language brochures about the benefits of spay and neuter surgery a few days before our mobile clinics.

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