U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Cohen A. Young
The Associated Press is reporting that 58,000 of Baghdad's estimated 1.25 million stray dogs have been killed in the last three months. The effort is being seen as necessary in order to combat the increase in attacks by packs of stray dogs, some of which have killed children. According to writer Bushra Juhi, "The surge in strays is ironically linked to what officials say is an improvement in some elements of daily life in Baghdad, a city that for seven years has been struggling to return to normalcy after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein."
Adding to the tragedy of such massive loss of canine life is the manner in which the dogs are killed, by either poisoning or police shooters. Is this a necessary evil in order to get the population under control? Are there any viable alternatives?Poisoning Dogs
Residents of Baghdad have been warned to avoid discarded meat, as it may be poisoned bait for the stray dogs. While it is unclear exactly which poison is being used the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have the following to say about one possible substance: "Strychnine poison causes severe and prolonged pain before death--animals can suffer for hours after ingesting strychnine before finally dying from suffocation." What is unknown is the potential for collateral damage, particularly the threat of poisoning to endangered species such as the Cinereous Vulture of which only 14-20,000 remain.
Teams of police shooters, working closely with security forces to avoid accidental retaliatory fire, are taking on the stray dogs as well. A picture that is being distributed with the AP article is particularly troubling to any dog lover as a police office takes aim at an unassuming stray. According to PETA "Gunshots often miss their intended targets and only wound the animals, which can cause the animals to suffer extreme pain and a slow death from blood loss or infection."
What Are The Alternatives
The World Society for Protection of Animals (WSPA) has deep experience with sustainable stray population management in some challenging environments. Recently WSPA has been very active in Haiti and have treated over 25,000 animals in the six months since the earthquake. "When it comes to managing dog population, many governments resort to quick fixes: killing dogs with poison or guns on the streets or capturing them and killing them at pounds." Says Sharanya Prasad, U.S. Programs Manager at WSPA. "These methods are unnecessarily cruel and fail to address root causes, such as irresponsible dog ownership and abandoned dogs breeding on the streets." WSPA's sustainable population management strategies include:
- Education about pet care
- Legislation, which is then enforced
- Identification and registration of pets
- The neutering stray and owned animals
In a dangerous and unstable environment like that of Iraq, where many human needs are not even being met, even contemplating such programs may be naive. Until a time when we can imagine progress towards human and animal welfare in Iraq it is hard to disagree with PETA's belief that, "if the best that can be offered to lost, stray, and discarded animals is death, society is duty bound to ensure that these animals are treated with dignity and compassion."