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CMC returns to brutality of colonial era

24 December 2013 05:06 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Sagarica Rajakarunanayake (‘Sathva Mithra’)

As reported in the media the Chief Veterinary Surgeon of the Colombo Municipal Council (CVS - CMC) states that the city must be rid of rabies and its dog population, controlled. In saying this he is creating a wrong picture of the position with regard to both rabies and the dog population, while people cannot be better informed as they have little or no access to statistics and data regarding rabies. The fact is that rabies and the dog population of the city has been effectively controlled in the last five years. This was accomplished during the tenure of the previous CVS -CMC who had the vision to invite an organszation of veterinary surgeons, the Blue Paw Trust (BPT), into a partnership with the CMC with the goal of eradicating rabies and controlling the dog population in the city. This five-year programme was funded entirely by this organisation with affiliation to WSPA, an internationally recognised organisation for the protection of animals.

In May 2006 HE President Rajapaksa ordered a stop to the killing of dogs for rabies and dog population control, and called for the adoption of humane and scientific solutions as recommended by the WHO.  The CMC/BPT partnership closely pursued these humane and scientific solutions.

In 2007 when the CMC/Blue Paw project commenced, the dog rabies figure stood at around 35 cases. With intensified vaccination carried out by the CMC/BPT, this figure kept decreasing to around 20 in 2009, less than 10 in 2010 and nil in 2012.  At the start of the project in 2007, around 300 sterilisations were done; in 2008 this figure rose to around 2000, in 2009 – in view of the sterilisations already done - the figure dropped to around 1,750, thento around 1000 in 2010, nearly 200 in 2011 and around the same figure in 2012. Due to the steady progress of sterilisations the production rate of dogs had steadily declined by as much as 90 per cent.

Thus, by carefully following the WHO’s humane and scientific solutions, and working hard for five years the CMC/ BPT partnership achieved highly positive results in controlling rabies and the dog population in the city.  The Country Representative for the WHO in Sri Lanka was extremely pleased and declared Colombo a model city worthy of emulation by other cities in the region seeking to eradicate rabies and control dog populations.

The contract between the CMC and the BPT ended in 2012. BPT made a request to the present CVS to sign a MoU for a fresh contract with the CMC where again the entire cost of the project would be borne by BPT. This time the veterinarians declared a target of achieving total eradication of rabies in Colombo city in the next five years. The present CVS, for reasons best known to him, did not enter into such a contract. Meanwhile the CVS-CMC is reported in the media of having complained of not having sufficient cadres to carry out the work of rabies eradication.

While national policy on rabies eradication is being developed  by the Department of Animal Production and Health and related authorities, based on the humane and scientific solutions of sterilisation and vaccination,  and  while Colombo City itself has made such headway in this, it is astounding that the CVS – CMC is preparing to get back to the Rabies Ordinance of 1893 and the Registration of Dogs Act of 1901 - two archaic pieces of legislation of colonial times with no relevance to present-day social and scientific realities.  When these laws were first brought by the British there was a very large dog population in the country and a high rate of rabies.

Anti-rabies inoculation was brought in but not administered to the dog population on a large scale.  The principal solution, at the time, was to seize, detain and destroy dogs, or otherwise dispose of them. These two pieces of legislation rode roughshod over Buddhist principles of compassion and the attitude of tolerance to animals strongly instilled among the people of this country.

In seeking to revert to the old law, the CVS-CMC clearly shows his scant respect for the guidelines provided by the WHO in combating rabies. These guidelines have been formulated after careful study of different societies and their distinct cultures. The study on Sri Lanka has shown a high tolerance of dogs among people who feed and care for dogs and allow them to live in their neighbourhoods. WHO experts point out this close link between man and dog to be an asset which could be used for achieving high immunisation levels among dog population because people are able and willing to bring these ownerless dogs in their neighbourhoods for vaccination and sterilisation.

WHO experts note that the dog itself plays an important role in preventing the spread of rabies. This is because the dog being a territorial animal guards its area preventing other dogs from entering it.  Thus, if a significant number of animals in an area are vaccinated against rabies they will form an effective barrier against the spread of this disease even if a rabid dog were to enter it. At an international seminar in Colombo in 2012, rabies experts from Geneva, Bali and other countries emphasised that the dog on the street is important in preventing rabies.  “Consider the dog on the street your soldier in combating rabies. Vaccinate him and let him remain on the street,” they said.

By reverting to the Rabies Ordinance the CVS-CMC will overturn the carefully built up high immunisation level of the dog population of Colombo city because it is his plan to act in accordance with the antiquated Ordinance and regularly seize and dispose of the roaming dogs.

In which case there will be little point in spending money and time on vaccinating and sterilising the roaming dogs. In the past when rabies eradication work was carried out according to the Rabies Ordinance the roaming dogs were targeted for seizing and destroying or otherwise disposed of  (it was never disclosed to the public the manner in which such disposals were carried out) and only the owned dogs were vaccinated. If the CVS acts according to the Rabies Ordinance, targeting only owned dogs for vaccination, a dangerous situation is most likely to arise  in Colombo where there are bound to be unvaccinated dogs and the city will again be open to the spread of rabies.

What indeed is the intention of the CVS-CMC in reverting to the Rabies Ordinance of 1893? It is certainly not the eradication of rabies because as we have taken pains to show how a return to the ‘seize and kill’ policy or otherwise disposing of dogs will lead to a situation of the spread of rabies. It is apparent that his intention is the removal en masse of dogs from Colombo City with little or no concern for the prevention of rabies. Or is it to support the efforts of the UDA in its efforts towards the beautification of the city?

There appears to be an undeclared policy by the UDA that all signs of poverty must be wiped out from the city and its suburbs, and prominent among these signs, we learn are the dwellings of low income communities, the presence of beggars and dogs; the city must be seen as highly developed, especially to visiting foreign leaders and investors. We will not get involved here with the other issues, but with regard to dogs we have to strongly state that the CVS-CMC should not use laws intended for the prevention of rabies, for any other purposes, such as the beautifying process of Colombo city.

The Rabies Ordinance of 1893 and the Registration of Dogs Ordinance of 1903 are both draconian laws, repressive in the extreme against both dog and man. These laws were repressive because there was no organised and effective anti-rabies campaign at the time. Today with the availability of the most up-to-date scientific solutions and highly organised national campaign, there is no justification whatever to use these laws against man or dog.

The CVS-CMC showed his intention of using the repressive nature of the Rabies Ordinance against people in how he acted in seizing over two hundred dogs from Colombo city, in view of CHOGM and promising owners and concerned communities he would return them no sooner CHOGM was over. Later, when the dogs were found to be missing from the places of confinement, at a meeting called by the Mayor, he claimed the dogs were returned to their original locations. However it was later exposed that he had in fact taken them out of the city and dumped them along the way from Madampe to Puttalam and beyond. His response to this was that under the Rabies Ordinance he had the right to dispose of animals in a manner deemed fit to him. In this instance he had no qualms about not keeping his word to the dog owners and the concerned public of unconditionally returning the dogs to their locations at the end of CHOGM.





By carefully following the WHO’s humane and scientific solutions, and working hard for five years the CMC/ BPT partnership achieved highly positive results in controlling rabies and the dog population in the city




It is apparent that the CVS-CMC is intent on using the repressive Rabies Ordinance to intimidate the people of Colombo in seizing dogs. He has publicly stated he will revert to the Rabies Ordinance and catch the dogs of Colombo. The national anti-rabies authorities who are carrying on with the modern and scientific solutions must stop him in this maniacal idea of turning the clock backwards on the rabies eradication campaign in the country.

Urgently required is a new rabies law based on the modern, scientific and humane solutions to enable the country to reach the national target of total eradication of rabies by 2020.
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