Embracing One Welfare in stray animal population control

Injured stray dogs on the street.

The veterinary profession has a wide role in the society that not only impacts animals but also humans and the environment within which we live. One of the daunting challenges in Uganda today is the ever increasing stray and roaming animal population. There are several complaints from all around the country about the havoc stray and roaming animals are causing. Reports of domestic animals’ death and human rabies cases keep on increasing despite the efforts put in place to control the stray animal populations. Living animals aren’t the only threat to health, if an animal dies on the streets, their remains present a health hazard for example polluting the water. Other social problems associated with stray and roaming dogs include road accidents, noise, fecal contamination, spread of rubbish and uncontrolled breeding.

Though most of the effects caused by these stray animals are mainly felt in urban and semi-urban centers, the trend of distribution is changing and the reports of stray animals in rural communities are increasing. Think of the damage these stray animals would cause to wildlife and ecosystem if their population is not checked. According to Dr. Mark Trotman, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Barbados, “a pair of cats producing two litters a year can exponentially produce as many as 420,000 over a period of seven years. Feral cats can therefore, by their sheer numbers compete with wildlife for space and for food reserves.” Destruction of biodiversity by stray animals represents a significant cost to local and global communities. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) states that biodiversity allows us to live healthy and happy lives. It provides us with an array of foods and materials, and it contributes to the economy. Without a diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, our supermarkets would have a lot less produce. Key to maintaining any ecosystem is the controlled and humane management of stray cats to prevent the loss of indigenous species that play the role of pollinators.

Are we taking the right measures to control animal populations? The answer is definitely NO.

The commonest strategies employed to control these animal populations are poisoning and shooting of these. The increasing stray animal populations is only the tip of an iceberg and we need to address the root cause of this problem if we are to address it satisfactorily. It is quite unsurprising that the strategies employed have failed to solve the challenge, and they have also caused significant animal welfare and public health issues. Therefore, we need to design new strategies to address this problem. The new strategies should embrace the concept of One welfare, where animal welfare, human wellbeing and the physical and social environment are looked at as interrelated issues.

Animal welfare does not only serve to improve the well-being of animals but also the humans who live around these animals. These animals we are killing maliciously have saved the lives of many people in many parts of the world, take for instance, the Comfort dog project in Northern Uganda where war trauma survivors are using the healing power of dog companionship. Several studies have indicated that the major reason for an increase in stray dog population is irresponsible dog ownership. Surprisingly, many of us look at a dog as a source of human rabies yet it also suffers the same way we do, if it is infected with the virus. The improper disposal of edible waste has provided ready food for these animals due to failure of their owners to provide for them. If much of our energy is focused on caring for pets and keeping our environment clean through proper disposal of waste, the number of scavenging dogs will reduce significantly.

The benefits of improving animal welfare to human health are immense. Research indicates that people who own pets visit a physician 12% less often than non-pet owners. Animals also significantly reduce the negative feelings of depression, anxiety and introversion. This clearly asserts the need to embrace the companionship of the animals we own through improving their welfare. The way we treat these stray animals has a huge impact on our lives and the society. It is believed that the inhumane treatment of animals is a major indicator of violence against other humans. According to a report by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “acts of animal cruelty are linked to a variety of other crimes, including violence against people, property crimes, and drug or disorderly conduct offenses.” Another report by the American Psychological Association and partners indicates that cruelty against animals is a warning sign for at-risk youths, stating that children showing this behavior pose a risk to themselves and others. It is also worth noting that domestic violence victims point to animal abuse as a frontrunner to actual physical abuse against family members.

Given the breadth and depth of the veterinary profession, veterinarians are an essential component of One Welfare. They are integral to missions at the human-animal-environment interface and therefore, should embrace the One welfare to solve the stray animal population challenges. Regardless, the complex issues of animal and human welfare, and environmental conservation will only become more important in global society.

“In the end, all the struggles have the same objective: the defense of life.”

Embracing One Welfare in stray animal population control

The veterinary profession has a wide role in the society that not only impacts animals but also humans and the environment within which we live. One of the daunting challenges in Uganda today is the ever increasing stray and roaming animal population. There are several complaints from all around the country about the havoc stray and roaming animals are causing. Reports of domestic animals’ death and human rabies cases keep on increasing despite the efforts put in place to control the stray animal populations. Living animals aren’t the only threat to health, if an animal dies on the streets, their remains present a health hazard for example polluting the water. Other social problems associated with stray and roaming dogs include road accidents, noise, fecal contamination, spread of rubbish and uncontrolled breeding.

Though most of the effects caused by these stray animals are mainly felt in urban and semi-urban centers, the trend of distribution is changing and the reports of stray animals in rural communities are increasing. Think of the damage these stray animals would cause to wildlife and ecosystem if their population is not checked. According to Dr. Mark Trotman, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Barbados, “a pair of cats producing two litters a year can exponentially produce as many as 420,000 over a period of seven years. Feral cats can therefore, by their sheer numbers compete with wildlife for space and for food reserves.” Destruction of biodiversity by stray animals represents a significant cost to local and global communities. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) states that biodiversity allows us to live healthy and happy lives. It provides us with an array of foods and materials, and it contributes to the economy. Without a diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, our supermarkets would have a lot less produce. Key to maintaining any ecosystem is the controlled and humane management of stray cats to prevent the loss of indigenous species that play the role of pollinators.

Are we taking the right measures to control animal populations? The answer is definitely NO.

The commonest strategies employed to control these animal populations are poisoning and shooting of these. The increasing stray animal populations is only the tip of an iceberg and we need to address the root cause of this problem if we are to address it satisfactorily. It is quite unsurprising that the strategies employed have failed to solve the challenge, and they have also caused significant animal welfare and public health issues. Therefore, we need to design new strategies to address this problem. The new strategies should embrace the concept of One welfare, where animal welfare, human wellbeing and the physical and social environment are looked at as interrelated issues.

Animal welfare does not only serve to improve the well-being of animals but also the humans who live around these animals. These animals we are killing maliciously have saved the lives of many people in many parts of the world, take for instance, the Comfort dog project in Northern Uganda where war trauma survivors are using the healing power of dog companionship. Several studies have indicated that the major reason for an increase in stray dog population is irresponsible dog ownership. Surprisingly, many of us look at a dog as a source of human rabies yet it also suffers the same way we do, if it is infected with the virus. The improper disposal of edible waste has provided ready food for these animals due to failure of their owners to provide for them. If much of our energy is focused on caring for pets and keeping our environment clean through proper disposal of waste, the number of scavenging dogs will reduce significantly.

The benefits of improving animal welfare to human health are immense. Research indicates that people who own pets visit a physician 12% less often than non-pet owners. Animals also significantly reduce the negative feelings of depression, anxiety and introversion. This clearly asserts the need to embrace the companionship of the animals we own through improving their welfare. The way we treat these stray animals has a huge impact on our lives and the society. It is believed that the inhumane treatment of animals is a major indicator of violence against other humans. According to a report by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “acts of animal cruelty are linked to a variety of other crimes, including violence against people, property crimes, and drug or disorderly conduct offenses.” Another report by the American Psychological Association and partners indicates that cruelty against animals is a warning sign for at-risk youths, stating that children showing this behavior pose a risk to themselves and others. It is also worth noting that domestic violence victims point to animal abuse as a frontrunner to actual physical abuse against family members.

Given the breadth and depth of the veterinary profession, veterinarians are an essential component of One Welfare. They are integral to missions at the human-animal-environment interface and therefore, should embrace the One welfare to solve the stray animal population challenges. Regardless, the complex issues of animal and human welfare, and environmental conservation will only become more important in global society.

“In the end, all the struggles have the same objective: the defense of life.”

Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: Embracing One Health.

Does anyone still need a reminder of the importance One Health approach? Look no further than the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The epidemic which was first reported in Wuhan 2 months ago has spread like wildfires to 27 countries killing 1,873 people and over 73,506 confirmed cases as of 18/02/20.

Cheryl Stroud, Executive Director One Health Commission wrote, “How many infectious diseases that pass between humans and animals does it take for us to understand how connected human health is to animals and our shared environment, and to take the needed actions?” Do we reallyneed to be reminded of this? The list of zoonotic diseases which have shaken the world is long, Ebola from bats, SARS from bats, MERS from camels, Zika transmitted by mosquitoes, HIV/AIDS reported to have originated from the consumption of wild animals in West Africa……and now coronavirus possibly originating from a live animal market  in China.

The cost of ignoring zoonotic diseases has a far-reaching financial implication. The cost of the 2003 SARS epidemic was US$30-50 billion, and the 2014-2016 West African Ebola outbreak cost as much as US$53 billion according to a report by Caroline Huber, Lyn Finelli and Warren Stevens in 2018. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 is expected to last till June with an economic and social disaster accounting for about $1 trillion. On further assessing the economic burden of outbreaks, a World Bank Group paper presented at the World Economic Forum concluded that, “all told, the annual global cost of moderately severe pandemics is roughly $570 billion.”

It is no longer a question of “if” but “when” and “where” another infectious outbreak that will mesmerize the whole world and subsequently be declared a Global Health Emergency. We were surprised by Zika, Ebola, MERS and now COVID-19 but we can be certain that there is another one lurking out there.

Viruses know no borders or territories. Uganda and the rest of Africa have been lucky this time round with the COVID-19 but for how long will this luck last? What lessons can we draw from this recent outbreak to prepare for the next outbreak?

Way forward: A One Health approach.

With over 70% of infectious diseases affecting humans originating from animals, the need to embrace One Health has never been more important. For optimal health outcomes, we need to consider human, animal and environmental health and embrace the interlinkages that exist between them. The time of using animals as “sentinels” for humans in the event of a disease outbreak are behind us. Both humans and animals are up against many of the same diseases and the challenges they present.

If an “emerging” infectious disease is identified in animals before it reaches the human population, it should be considered a “win-win”, because then humans can develop vaccines that can control the disease in both populations. We are past the era of working in isolation and these global health threats reinstate the need for information sharing and multidisciplinary approach in the prevention and control of diseases.

Uganda is faced with several health challenges including recent outbreak of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, the ongoing Ebola crisis in DRC and the COVID-19 threat. Fortunately, things are moving in the right direction and the country is embracing the One Health linkages and implementing One Health principles to handle these crises. Although there is a lot to be learnt about global health preparedness and response, it is safe to assume the One Health principles have played and will likely continue to play a key role in solving the global health dilemmas.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a wakeup call to governments, development organizations and institutions to embrace One Health for a better tomorrow.

“There are thousands of diseases, but there’s only one health.”