Recently there have been many comments and a lot of attention on the issue of stray and homeless dogs.
Most of this seems to have been a result of a person being attacked and injured by a dog in the south of Lebanon, as well as subsequent statements made by the prominent cleric Ayatollah Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.
While we have requested clarification of his statement, our understanding is that the statements were to the effect of people have the right to defend themselves if being attacked by an animal, but that killing an animal should only be a last resort as it is still a life and must be respected. Unfortunately this has been misconstrued by many into some sort of permission to exterminate dogs.
Though we are deeply saddened any time a person has been injured by an animal, we also know that randomly shooting or poisoning of dogs is not a solution to individual cases of dog bites or the problem of homeless dogs in general, nor will it heal the hurt or pain caused by such an avoidable incident as a dog bite.
Knowing that this is an issue which comes up every year, let's use this current momentum and public concern to address the real problems which allow incidents like this to happen.
I believe everyone in Lebanon wants to see less dogs and cats living on the streets, what people differ on is how to go about getting to this point, and it is usually this difference in opinion which usually leads to the failure of anything effective being done.
Let's take a serious look at some of the problems and failures which even allowed this to happen in the first place ' why are there so many dogs on our streets?
Lebanon is lagging far behind many countries in the Middle East not only when it comes to the ideas of animal welfare, but in the laws which should have been in place to prevent these kinds of things from ever happening.
Recognizing that we have so many homeless animals, why are traders and pet shops allowed to import dogs and cats into Lebanon, sometimes as far away as South Africa and Ukraine? If we are going to stop the problem of homeless pets then let's start from the source, the government should enact stricter regulations ' or an outright ban - on the importation of dogs and cats for commercial purposes. If dogs and cats are still allowed to be imported for commercial reasons, then a requirement that they all be castrated would prevent further breeding and a growing population.
Pets already in Lebanon could go through a registration process. This registration process could be used to weed out irresponsible owners and help prevent people from getting a pet only to dump it on the street a week later. This would be a way to better ensure pet owners are responsible for the animals in their care, and a potential source of revenue to offset any costs as well as implementing some of the solutions discussed here.
Following this registration should be a consideration for mandatory rabies vaccine for all dogs. This vaccine would make all pets healthier, again help reduce pet owners who are more likely to abandon their pets, and ensure pets which are carelessly abandoned are less likely to ever contract rabies or pose less of a potential threat to people.
And what about all of those animals currently on the street, what can be done to minimize any threat to people and humanely reduce the population of homeless dogs?
Shooting or poisoning of dogs has proven over and over not to work, both in Lebanon and the rest of the world. Search through some of the local media archives and a range of articles will come up about shooting and poisoning of animals as a result of bites or attacks. Knowing this, it is time we recognize that we have proven to ourselves that this is not a method which will solve this problem.
This is an inherently inhumane way to deal with animals, one which causes undue suffering often lasting for days. An injured animal can also pose an increased risk to people as they fight for life, or when approached by a person unaware that the animal is gravely injured.
Just as importantly, this country has been through enough and we do not need more shooting or the possibility of someone being hurt because of this. There are serious long term issues of continuously putting out poison, poison which will eventually seep into the water we drink, and harm or kill wildlife and livestock.
The solutions are there, but there are not overnight fixes, we wont wake up tomorrow and see this problems solved, and it cant be done without a firm commitment by the relevant government bodies.
Lets start with the least controversial aspect of the issue of reducing the number of homeless animals. I don't think there is a single person that could argue that our country would be a better place if there was not so much trash accumulating. Much more than just an eyesore and health hazard, it is also a ready food source for these animals. We cant complain about the number of dogs on the street when at the same time we are basically feeding them and making them more healthy and more likely to reproduce. We accept that this might not be the easiest thing to do, but this is something which has very direct benefits for everyone and a problem which will only become worse the longer it remains unaddressed.
A large scale Trap Neuter Return (TNR) program needs to be implemented to prevent the animals already living on the streets from breeding and causing the population to grow. TNR is used throughout the world as the most humane and effective way for reducing the number of animals on the streets. Animals are safely captured by trained personnel, then vaccinated and surgically neutered by a qualified vet, returned to the location where they were captured, and given follow up care like supplemental feeding and vet care. These animals are then unable to breed, less likely to contract diseases, and less likely to come into conflict with people. As the percentage of healthy - but unable to breed - animals grows, the population as a whole begins to drop, and people will see less animals on the street. Animals Lebanon has brought in experts to train local vets so they are competent in doing these surgeries and understand wide scale neutering programs.
If so many other countries can effectively implement some of these solutions then there is little reason why Lebanon cannot. Lebanon is behind in its animal welfare laws, in its regulations of pet shops, importation of animals, and pet ownership. While our sympathy goes out to anyone injured by an animal, instead of getting upset at the animal lets focus our efforts on changing the problems which allowed this to ever happen.
We are prepared to work with any government body which is serious about having a long term solution. Either the government starts implementing these solutions, or we can 'foresee the future' that in another year we will be hearing these same complaints, same conflicts, and same people out shooting and poisoning all over again.
Lana El Khalil