KARACHI: Sandy and her pups were regular visitors to Hira Sami’s residence. The stray and her four puppies had adopted Ms Sami and could often be seen in and around the house she had moved into a few months back.

About two week ago, Ms Sami said, she saw Sandy’s body in the empty plot next to her house.

“I was at work all day and came home late in the evening,” she said. “I was shocked and saddened to find that Sandy had been shot dead and dumped into the empty plot. She was a lively animal who was very loving and responded to her name whenever I called out. Later we found out that one of her puppies had been poisoned and another one was shot dead. The two surviving puppies are still scared.”

She added that a few days before the incident, her houseboy had told her that men in a van were shooting stray dogs in their area. “That day, they got Sandy,” said Ms Sami.

Sandy’s body, she added was not removed immediately. It had been there for a week after the stray dog was shot dead.

Her puppies were rescued by the Home for Paw and Claw, a registered business and animal shelter, run by Mustafa Ahmed and his wife, Hira, who spend most of their days on stray dog rescue missions in the city. The minute they receive information about an injured or targeted stray animal –– they gather their team and are out to pick up the animal, vaccinate and feed it.

Since last month, at least 12 stray dogs have been killed in the Defence Housing Authority and Clifton, around 25 in the Tariq Road and 40 in Kharadar and Mithadar areas, said Mr Ahmed.

When contacted, the Cantonment Board Clifton spokesman said that the cantonment board was doing everything in accordance with the law and those methods were followed by municipalities across the country. “We have looked at and worked on alternatives but they were not effective,” he said. “People still call us and complain.”

“I came back from the US in 2004 and we used to do a lot of social activities like this there,” said Mr Ahmed. “Upon my return, I did the same thing here. My father and I used to take stray dogs, have them vaccinated and look after them.”

He said his team conducted regular surveys and mapped areas where stray dogs lived. This way, he added, they could keep an eye on stray animals which were injured or killed.

“We want them to stop killing the animals,” he said. “A good alternative is ‘Trap, neuter and release’, which is what we have suggested to the authorities.”

According to Mr Ahmed, after Sandy’s death they had been trying to get the authorities on board. “If you keep killing and culling dogs and leave their bodies on the road or in empty plots or garbage, it will cause environmental and health hazards,” he said, adding that areas targeted by the CBC in the DHA included Tauheed Commercial, Bukhari Commercial, Badar Commercial and Phase VIII.

Co-founder of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society Mahera Omar said Pakistan has been killing its stray dogs since partition. “It happens every day, every month, it happens all the time –– it’s not something that just happened –– it’s just now that because of social media people are connected and aware of what efforts are being made,” she said.

“The voice of people who don’t like dogs is more powerful than people who speak up. PAWS has been advocating a humane approach to dog management and rabies control. Karachi needs a humane approach to stray dog management and rabies control, it is a human health issue.”

According to Ms Omar, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says the best way to deal with stray dogs in the region is mass vaccination and sterilisation.

She gave the example of India where the official government policy is to neuter and vaccinate strays. This, she added, was made possible after the Dog and Cat Management Act was passed.

The Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s Dr Seemi Jamali said they treated about 7,000 patients at the hospital’s dog bite clinic every year. “Mass culling of dogs is not good. It is brutal,” she said. “The best option is to neuter, vaccinate, tag the strays and release them.”

According to veterinarian Dr Isma Gheewala, culling and killing strays has been going on for a long time. “All over the world they have tried different ways and methods to control the stray dog population,” she said. “The one method that has been successful is the spay, neuter and release programme.”

She added that in a city like Karachi it was not plausible to cull or kill strays in one area because other strays would come and take over their area and breed there.

Dr Naseem Salahuddin, who is an infectious disease specialist at the Indus Hospital and president of Rabies in Asia’s Pakistan chapter, said the solution was not to treat animals as enemies, but as friends.

“Treat them well, do not hurt them, rather help the frightened or injured animal feel good. We do need to reduce stray dog population and protect the animal from rabies so that they do not transmit the fatal disease to humans,” she said.

“We manage 30 to 50 new cases of dog bites at the Indus Hospital’s emergency department every day. Many are horrendous bites on the scalp, eyebrow, ear, nose, arms and legs, especially in children. We give them WHO recommended treatment for rabies prevention. The treatment is costly and lengthy but is life saving.”

According to Dr Salahuddin, all this would not happen if animals were cared for with respect. “If one mistreats a dog, it will naturally retaliate by chasing or biting the person. Admittedly, there are thousands of stray dogs in every neighborhood, and adults and children are afraid to step out of their homes. Dogs barking and baying also disturbs a peaceful neighborhood,” she said.

“Killing or culling is cruel, offensive, unhygienic and ineffective. The only long-term solution to reduce dog population is to spay/neuter and vaccinate against rabies and release it into its own environment. OIE endorses this method. If 70 per cent stray dogs in an area are vaccinated against rabies within four to six months, rabies will be ultimately controlled.”

Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2016