Afghanistan: Kabul's Stray Dogs Create Havoc

Municipality struggles to control packs of feral dogs plaguing residents and risking public health

By Abdol Wahed Faramarz - Afghanistan

ARR Issue 380,

18 Nov 10

Wrapped in a black shawl, Malalay, 30, weeps as she recounts how she was attacked by a pack of wild dogs one evening as, heavily pregnant, she walked through the Kabul streets.

"It was dark, and the dogs attacked when I was crossing the road," she sobs. "By the time people rushed to my rescue I was already badly wounded."

Even worse was to come when she underwent treatment to prevent her catching rabies or other diseases from the animals.

"I was saved from the dogs, but I miscarried my six-month-old baby because of the treatment," she said.

Blaming the municipality for failing to control the numbers of dogs roaming the streets, she added, "They and the dogs murdered my son."

According to official figures, there are over stray 100,000 dogs in Kabul, and health workers say they have become a real menace to public health. Meanwhile, the government says it lacks the resources to roll out an effective programme of extermination or sterilisation.

Yousouf, the doctor responsible for administering rabies vaccines at Kabul's central public clinic, said 190 women, 234 men and 426 children were treated for dog bites there during the first four months of this year. Last year, the total number of people treated at his clinic came to 3,700, most of them children. He added that many other bite victims had sought treatment at private hospitals, or else had not received medical attention at all.

Children were particularly vulnerable to attack by dogs, he said.

"When children pass by the big rubbish dumps or play in the streets, they get attacked by stray dogs and bitten," he said, noting that dog bites were a serious source of infection, with rabies particularly dangerous because it was invariably fatal without treatment.

Among the patients waiting to be seen during morning surgery at the clinic, several were clearly seeking treatment for dog bites. Among them was Mustafa, a seven-year-old boy crying continuously as his mother cradled him in her arms. The pair had been looking in rubbish bins to collect things to sell to supplement the family's meagre income, when the boy was set upon by a pack of dogs.

In tears herself, Mustafa's mother said, "He has lost his father and now we are the sole breadwinners. The dogs attacked my son this morning when we were collecting paper, plastic, metal and wood from trash bins. If two people hadn't rushed to our aid, he would have been eaten by the dogs."

The leafy grounds of Kabul university also has its own problem with stray animals, which can be seen roaming the grounds or resting in the shade of trees and bushes.

Razia, a student living in the women's hostel, is scared of the growing number of feral dogs in the area, and says that whenever she leaves the campus she returns as early as possible to avoid them in the dark.

"At night, the barking and howling of these dogs stops us sleeping and studying," she added.

Government officials acknowledge there is a problem but say they lack the resources to eliminate the scourge from the city.

Health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Nur Oghli Kargar said the plague of dogs was a major challenge for his department, and one it was seeking to address.

"We've had campaigns where we have eliminated around 3,000 dogs, but that wasn't enough," he said. "Sterilising dogs is hard to do in Afghanistan as there are so many of them."

Mohammad Yunus Nawandesh, the head of Kabul municipality, said the poison previously used to kill dogs was banned six months ago, allowing numbers to rise. The only poison they had been able to access since then was poor quality.

"We'd administer the substance but when our staff went to collect the dead bodies, the dogs would leap back onto their feet and attack them," he said.

Nawandesh said owners needed to take responsibility for their dogs, adding, "I have seen many people bitten by pet dogs at home."

Some city residents say the municipality needs to start registering animals and help restrict the number of strays, including abandoned pets.

But Nawandesh said that this was far too ambitious a scheme for a capital city still struggling to recover from years of war and deprivation, adding with a laugh, "The vehicles in Kabul haven't been registered yet, and people expect us to register dogs?"

Abdolwahed Faramarz is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kabul