Vets Tackle Rabies in Remote Villages in India

They went door-to-door, vaccinating free-roaming pet dogs.

mobile rabies clinic in India

Humane Society International

On a recent fall day, a truck converted into a mobile veterinary clinic made its way into two remote villages in southwest India. Veterinarians from Humane Society International/India went door to door administering free rabies shots to many of the pet dogs that roam free in the area.

The vaccination drive was aimed to protect both animals and people. India has about 20,000 people die each year from rabies, which makes up almost 40% of the global death statistics. Nearly all the rabies deaths in India are due to dog bites.

The HSI/I veterinarians teamed up with government vets to treat dogs in the villages of Dori and Dopenatti in Dharwad. The villages border a forest reserve, where many of the community's dogs often wander. Nearly all of the 80 or so dogs in the villages are owned by people but are free-ranging.

Veterinarians used their cell phones to track and create medical records for each dog they vaccinated.

The goal was to vaccinate at least 70% of the local dog population, which is the minimum amount necessary to reach herd immunity. They ended up vaccinating 76 out of a total of 82 dogs (plus two cats), so roughly 93%. They felt it was a huge success.

Because the dogs roam, unvaccinated pets can infect wildlife with rabies. They can also bring back diseases to people in the community.

“Dogs and humans have shared space for several centuries now. In a country that is as tolerant of dogs in public spaces as India is, it is essential to retain that attitude while ensuring the well-being of dogs and communities living around them," Hemanth Byatroy, program manager, Dharwad, tells Treehugger.

"At the same time, the conflict between dogs and wild animals is a credible threat in various pockets as well and needs to be addressed- especially given the risk of zoonoses among other threats. Supporting custodian government agencies in programs such as this will boost their efforts further and start us off on the long road to an amicable solution."

Saving Street Dogs

dog owner visits rabies clinic in India

Humane Society International

Since 2013, HSI/India has vaccinated, spayed, and neutered nearly 400,000 dogs and cats throughout India. The group has done the same with more than 1 million street dogs globally in an attempt to reduce the number of roaming dogs and offer a humane way to reduce their numbers instead of using dog culling.

An estimated 300 million dogs live on the streets around the world, with about 35 million of them running free in India. The dogs face disease, injury, hunger, and persecution.

In addition to vaccinations and spay/neuter programs to reduce the number of roaming dogs, HSI/India works to raise awareness about responsible pet care.

“Creating models out of individual villages and districts will showcase to various stakeholders that prevention and eradication of rabies is a real possibility over time. It needs sustained disease monitoring, active community participation and regular government driven programs such as this to achieve success," Dr. Vineeta Poojary, HSI/India’s manager of veterinary services, tells Treehugger.

"Rabies is a zoonotic disease that affects animal and humans alike thereby adversely affecting planetary health. Given the fact that it is a preventable disease, it is disheartening that India contributes the number of cases it does globally. However, as awareness about responsible pet ownership increases in urban and rural parts of India and vaccine is being made more readily available, we should be able to see a change in these numbers over time.”

“My dog’s name is Raja and he is 6 years old. Since this morning, the vets have been going door-to-door and vaccinating all dogs in our village," Bhimappa, a 65-year-old local resident, said in a statement to HSI/I.

"This is very beneficial to our dogs and people who live in Dori. This initiative is one of a kind and is welcome from the point of view of health of our animals.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Veterinarians with Smart Phones and Syringes Go Door-to-door to Tackle Rabies in India's Dogs." Humane Society International, 2021.

  2. Shambhavi Tiwari, HSI/India Manager Media Relations

  3. Hemanth Byatroy, program manager, Dharwad

  4. Dr. Vineeta Poojary, HSI/India’s manager of veterinary services