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Saving dogs to support rural communities

As a consultant, it’s my privilege to help clients with projects all over the world. But it’s not too often that I get to see the actual impact on the ground.

I’ve just come back from Kenya, where I was helping World Animal Protection develop its global strategy on animals in communities. The campaign focuses on dogs, both through promoting responsible ownership of pets, and especially by protecting the millions of dogs that live on the streets.

These street dogs often live in poor health, and at times are subjected to inhumane culling. The health of these dogs, and the health of the communities they live in, are often interlinked – particularly when it comes to rabies.

In Makuene County, about three hours east of Nairobi, World Animal Protection has helped set up a pilot project to reduce the risk of rabies, and promote better understanding of how to avoid the disease and care for dogs.

We visited the regional Ministry of Health, a local school and a farmer whose life was affected by rabies.

All were inspiring. The officials spoke warmly about the impact of the project – by immunising at least 70% of the dog population they can effectively eliminate the disease in humans too.

About 120 schoolkids crowded enthusiastically into one bare-walled classroom, and shared all they’d learned about handling and caring for dogs. And at a very small farm, far from a main road, the farmer explained how she’d saved 5 years to buy a single cow. When the animal was bitten by a rabid dog, and died, she lost not only her cow, but also the calf that the cow was carrying and her chance to make a profit. Needless to say, she’s a strong supporter of the initiative to immunise dogs so they can’t carry the disease.

By the end of the year, the Kenyan government, with some overseas aid, will start rolling out this program across the country. Rabies kills nearly 60,000 people globally each year – 2/3 of them are children, and nearly all are poor. Eliminating human cases of this incurable disease by 2030 is part of the UN global development goals.

World Animal Protection is working in many countries to establish vaccination and other programs for dogs, educate vets, health workers and the public, and advocating for systems to properly manage canine populations.

Immunisation against rabies is a first step to improve the health of dogs, reduce culling and set up institutional responsibility for the care of strays. It was a privilege to see how well World Animal Protection are doing in Kenya.