News / Africa

West Africa Fights Dog Overpopulation

A dog sits on the steps of a door into the compound of a traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century in the Murray Town neighborhood of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, April 28, 2012.
A dog sits on the steps of a door into the compound of a traditional colonial-era Board House dating back about a century in the Murray Town neighborhood of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown, April 28, 2012.
One of Sierra's Leone's five veterinarians wants to share his views at the first international conference on dog population management this week in Britain. The West Africa region has a massive overpopulation of dogs, but its representative to the conference may not be able to attend.

They say dogs are man's best friend, but here at a Freetown animal clinic Doctor Gudosh Jalloh is struggling just to keep them alive.

Some dogs do not make it to his clinic.  "There are so many people killing dogs, because of rabies," said the vet.

Rabies is a huge problem in West Africa, but Dr. Jalloh says killing is not the answer, vaccination is.   

One of the topics being discussed at the conference in Britain is how to control rabies among huge dog populations, but Dr. Jalloh says he may not be able to attend because his visa did not arrive in time.  He was supposed to represent West Africa at the meeting.  

He says it a frustrating situation because he may miss out on an opportunity to share and exchange ideas with others from around the world.

"They would have loved to listen to what I am telling them, and with the gaps how we are managing to solve this problem," said Dr. Jalloh.

According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Sierra Leone has one of the largest stray dog populations in Africa, about 100,000.   Dr. Jalloh and his staff have sterilized 19,000 dogs since 2005, which has helped to decrease the population, but more needs to be done he says.

It is an issue the Sierra Leone government says it is also trying to deal with.  

Ministry of Agriculture Assistant Director for Animal Health, Doctor Mohamed Barrie, says stray dogs are a consistent problem.

He says many dogs end up on the street when owners do not want them anymore.  There, they multiply, which is one factor that leads to overpopulation.  

Dr. Barrie says the government is looking at revising the animal disease act and wants stricter fines for people abusing or neglecting a dog.  

"We were working on 1945 legislation, but just last year revised, now we have sent to law office department for vetting,from there it will go to parliament," he said.

He adds the conference in Britain is relevant for African countries because what happens to dogs can affect people, such as contracting tape worm.

"By licking your hand or skin, if a dog is infected, the egg will hatch, go into the skin and then larvae will hatch and can cause serious problem in human," said Dr. Barrie.

But getting humans to care in Sierra Leone does have challenges, says Dr. Jalloh.  Often neglected dogs and puppies are just dumped at his clinic.  

He says he realizes in a country where so many are living in poverty, dogs are not a priority, but he is starting to see attitudes are slowly changing.  

"We have got people now paying, the little income they get they pay to treat animals," said Dr. Jalloh.

Even with people spending more, the clinic is barely making ends meet.  Vaccinations used to be free, but there is no funding to make that happen anymore.

Dr. Jalloh says another good reason to attend the conference would be the opportunity to network with possible donors. "The funds are not there, we do not have [enough for] medicine cost, we do not have the staff," he said.

His staff members make only about $100 a month.  Despite the low pay, vet technician Teddy Mannah says he loves his job.  

"I think I am satisfied to lie on my bed and ask myself what have I done today?   I have rescued one or two dogs, helped reduce pain and stress from dogs, that makes me happy.  Actually it is not just about going to the bank or working somewhere fully  air conditioned, but conscience.  I am happy, I am not going to get rich working here, but my contribution makes me feel I am rich."

Dr. Jalloh says the key to dealing with so many dogs is mainly more education for owners to get dogs neutered and vaccinated, so the problem can continue to decrease and dogs can live decent lives among humans.  He says he will continue to advocate for the dogs of Sierra Leone.

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