The problem of street dogs

Nadine Wahab
Friday 6 Aug 2021

The real problem is not so much with street dogs as with dog owners, as experiences in the Red Sea city of Dahab have confirmed

It has been a year since the General Authority for Veterinary Services launched its strategy to eliminate rabies in Egypt without the use of poison, which causes undue harm to all types of animals and contaminates the ecosystem. 

The plan was an effort to align the strategy with the Vision 2030, Egypt’s long-term strategic plan to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), particularly SDG 15 to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”

The use of poison campaigns across Egypt was primarily to limit the population of wild dogs in urban areas. This gave rise to a conflict between the need to ensure public safety and the humane treatment of animals as guaranteed in Article 45 of the Egyptian Constitution, creating a constant struggle between those concerned with animal welfare and the various municipalities. 

The July 15 protocol gave animal welfare organisations in Egypt an opportunity to vaccinate and report all street dogs, alleviating public safety concerns. But this did not fix the overpopulation issue.  

In reality, the dogs are an important part of the ecosystem. They keep other animals, like snakes and rodents, at bay. The biggest concern about street dogs has always been overpopulation, and killing them does not address the root cause. Residents of Dahab on the Red Sea working with animal welfare organisations have shown that street dogs are not the problem. The real problem is irresponsible ownership. 

Egypt has one of the most sought-after street dogs in the world, the baladi dog. Foreigners often come to Dahab, fall in love with street dogs, and then try to take them home. Dahab is known as a destination for dog lovers as a result. Working with local-government officials, a group of volunteers has managed to create a dog and cat-friendly city in Dahab. Since 2014, the Dahab city council and the South Sinai Veterinary Medicine Directorate, in association with Animal Welfare Dahab, have not used poisoning as a mechanism of population control. While there have been a few cases of poisoning, these were individual efforts not sanctioned by the Veterinary Medicine Directorate. 

Local residents and restaurants care for street animals and ensure that they are fed and healthy. Under the care of local vets, street animals also receive medical attention when needed. In an effort to control the population of street animals, Animal Welfare Dahab has led a campaign to ensure that all street animals are sterilised and healthy. 

Vaccinating and sterilising take care of public safety concerns. Dahab has a 90 per cent sterilisation rate for female street dogs as a result, and at this rate Dahab should have seen a decline in street dogs, though this has not in fact been the case. The release of previously owned dogs is the main cause of an increase in the dog population in Dahab. Some are unwanted puppies, while others are adult dogs that the owner is no longer willing or able to care for. Since most dog owners refuse to sterilise their dogs, these dogs have led to an increase in the dog population in Dahab. It now requires several sterilisation campaigns a year to limit the street dog population. 

An increase in the population is not the only problem. When pre-owned dogs are released, they face many hardships. After having food readily available, they are forced to learn to scavenge for food, competing with other street dogs. Pre-owned dogs are also not properly socialised, so they are unable to interact with street dogs. This leads to more territorial and aggressive behaviour. It takes time for the dogs to reacclimatise, but during this time many people may complain about the change of behaviour in the street dogs, viewing them as a safety concern. 

Lastly, in Dahab we have found that most dog attacks are by owned aggressive breeds that have not been properly trained or have been trained to be more aggressive. This all leads to the perception that there is a street dog problem in the city. 

In my opinion, irresponsible breeding and dog ownership is the main cause of the street animal problem in Egypt. The use of poison to control such animals not only harms the entire ecosystem, but also does not solve the problem of over-population in the long term. 

A public awareness campaign on responsible dog ownership requiring all dog owners to chip and register their dogs would be a great first step. Local municipalities need to engage more with the local volunteers who are vaccinating and sterilising street dogs. A closer working relationship would allow us to remedy any issues before they become major problems. It is also time that dog owners seriously considered sterilisation as a humane method that would protect all dogs.

The writer is the founder of Eco-Dahab, South Sinai.



*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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