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.”