Spaying and Neutering: Key to Controlling the Stray Dog Population in Sierra Leone
Compassionate Paws (CPI) was co-founded in 2020 with the goal of improving the welfare of stray dogs in Sierra Leone. Visitors to Sierra Leone are often shocked to see so many stray dogs wandering around, and sadly, many of those dogs are in a very poor state of health.
The stray dog population in Sierra Leone rose rapidly during the civil war between 1991 and 2002, when 2.5 million people were forced to leave their homes because of fighting. Current estimates put the population of stray dogs in Freetown to be approximately 100,000.
Our research has estimated there to be a human:dog ratio of 12 to 1, which is a much greater density than the expected ratio for urban Sub-Saharan Africa of 21 to 1.
A recent survey by CPI of Freetown residents showed that, while many people feel compassion for the stray dogs and provide food for them, they also find them a nuisance because of noise and mess.
Furthermore, the potential for rabies transmission is a very real risk. Rabies is endemic in Sierra Leone and dog bites are common, especially with children. For this reason, dogs that look unwell are often driven away or killed in inhumane ways. Sadly, common skin problems such as mange, which can be easily-treatable, are often confused for being a sign of rabies, which means that dogs with poor skin are in particular danger of abuse or abandonment.
“Spaying and neutering alongside rabies vaccination has to be the corner-stone of any approach at improving the health and welfare of stray dogs in Sierra Leone,” says CPI co-founder, Sea Ramanat.
CPI began a systematic and sustained spay-neuter programme for stray dogs in Freetown in 2021 - the first programme of its kind in Sierra Leone that uses both mapping and survey data to plan, deliver and evaluate.
The lack of skilled veterinary professionals in Sierra Leone has presented one of the biggest challenges to animal welfare and rabies elimination to date (Suluku, 2021).
As there are only between one and three full-time, practising and qualified veterinary surgeons in Sierra Leone, mostly working in agriculture, CPI has chosen to bring in highly-experienced veterinary surgeons from overseas to conduct the work, which takes place during intensive, week-long spay-neuter clinics.
“Over half of stray dogs have a blood-borne disease or other health condition and so we only take veterinary volunteers who have several years of experience and a high level of surgical skill,” says Dr. Rebecca Dobinson, CPI’s Veterinary Director. During their visit, volunteer veterinary professionals are able to provide training to a select number of Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) and Ministry of Agriculture employees. Previous training topics have included sterility and anaesthetic protocol.
While the broader goal of running spay-neuter clinics is to reduce the population of stray dogs, there are benefits for individual dogs and their owners too: dogs that are sterilised are more likely to live longer, suffer less ill-health and be less at-risk of injury. People find multiple litters of puppies a burden, and therefore are more likely to keep males. Females are much more likely to be abandoned and then die in the street.
Research in 2022 in Freetown found a ratio of males to females of between 1.7 to 1 and 2.7 to 1. Our survey data also shows that female dogs in Freetown are more likely to be underweight and suffer poor health.
For this reason, CPI spay-neuter clinics have a particular focus on female dogs. By focusing on females, we are greatly reducing their chances of death and abandonment, while raising the profile of females within the community.
By mapping out and conducting regular household surveys and dog counts within the intervention area, CPI is able to monitor the impact of its spay-neuter programs - both in terms of the impact on the dog population as well as the impact on people's perceptions within the community. Survey data is GPS-tracked and collected using the WVS app.
During the week, vets will also treat a number of dogs for on-going or emergency health conditions. Often, they will find life-threatening problems such as tumours or uterine infections while the dog is with us, which they are able to provide treatment for.
Watch a short video from our March 2023 spay-neuter project here.
Compassionate Paws would like to thank everyone who has donated to help provide veterinary treatment and care to stray dogs in Sierra Leone. All donations go to the projects. If you’d like to help us by making a one-off or monthly donation of money or veterinary equipment, please go to our donations page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are an experienced vet tech/nurse or veterinary surgeon and are interested in joining us for a spay-neuter project as a volunteer, please email us on the above email address.