In a landmark move for animal welfare and public health, Bhutan has emerged as the first nation globally to confirm that its entire street dog population is now completely vaccinated and sterilized. This milestone was reached after several years of dedicated efforts within a humane dog management strategy, in collaboration with the international animal welfare group Humane Society International (HSI).
This historic declaration came during the official completion ceremony of the National Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Project in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, with the event graced by the presence of the country’s Prime Minister, Dr. Lotay Tshering. In this gathering, the Royal Government of Bhutan broadcasted their significant stride in both animal and human health domains.
To mark this occasion, Prime Minister Tshering bestowed a commemorative plaque upon HSI, expressing his gratitude for the organization’s “consistent and unwavering support” in aiding Bhutan’s journey towards street dog welfare since the program’s initiation in 2009.
This accolade celebrates the prolonged period of cooperative efforts, which spanned over a decade, combining extensive spay/neuter campaigns and community involvement to achieve this accomplishment.
The initiative has resulted in the sterilization and vaccination of over 150,000 street dogs, along with the microchipping of 32,000 domestic dogs. These actions are crucial given that Asia is home to approximately 300 million street dogs facing dire challenges, such as disease and severe living conditions. In the absence of such proactive initiatives, street dog populations tend to swell uncontrollably, heightening the dangers of rabies transmission and dog bites—issues that lead to an estimated 59,000 human rabies fatalities worldwide annually, according to the World Health Organization.
Recognizing the pressing need for a more humane method to manage street dogs, which often face cruel culling or overcrowded shelters, the Bhutanese Government partnered with HSI in 2009 to devise a kinder approach to manage its substantial dog population.
Originating as a pilot project in Thimphu, the program expanded to a national scale, laying the groundwork for the National Dog Population Management and Rabies Control Project.
Over time, the project has cultivated expertise within the country, with more than 35 Bhutanese veterinarians and staff receiving training in proficient spay/neuter practices. Concurrently, an initiative to bolster community engagement and enhance awareness regarding dog welfare was implemented, further aiding in the reduction of human-dog conflicts.
During the concluding event, Prime Minister Tshering extended his congratulations to all involved, including community volunteers from each district (Dzongkhags) for their pivotal role in the program’s success. He highlighted the importance of the project, stating, “This might seem like a small step, but it will go a long way in nation building. The program got this push thanks to His Majesty’s direction. It would not have been achieved without the thousands of de-suups. This is a historic gathering, not just for the nation but globally.”
Adding to these sentiments, Keren Nazareth, HSI/India’s senior director of companion animals and engagement, who has been closely associated with the Bhutan program since 2015, commended Bhutan’s steadfast dedication.
Nazareth remarked, “This has been a long journey together with constant learning and adjustment, but from the start, the Government has been committed, which has enabled us to consistently improve the program. We congratulate the people of Bhutan for this extraordinary dog-friendly success which also brings enormous benefits to the local communities.”
She further posited that Bhutan’s approach could serve as a model for other Asian governments grappling with similar issues, stating, “It’s a remarkable achievement that we hope shows the way forward for governments across Asia that also face street dog challenges. There is much to be learned from Bhutan, including its determination and compassion to create a more peaceful coexistence for people and dogs.”