Understanding the Stray Dog Crisis in Sierra Leone and How You Can Help
Updated: May 3
Learn about the root causes of the stray dog epidemic in Sierra Leone and the steps Compassionate Paws International is taking to provide solutions. Find out how you can help us make a difference.
It is estimated that there are over 100,000 stray dogs in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Most of these dogs are in dire need of veterinary treatment, with skin problems, eye infections, open wounds and injuries resulting from road accidents being extremely common.
Just over twenty years ago, Sierra Leone arose from a decade-long war that was one of the most devastating in history: between 50,000 and 70,000 people died, while 2.5 million people were displaced from their homes. Many were raped, mutilated and/or forced to fight as child soldiers.
While people fled, dogs were left behind and ended up as strays.
Then, just as the people of Sierra Leone were beginning to recover from the war, the Ebola epidemic hit in 2014, causing nearly 4000 deaths and pushing millions of people back into poverty when businesses closed and the country went into a prolonged period of lock down. Sierra Leone ranks second highest in the world for food insecurity (FAO, 2020); 86.7% of households have at least one person who has gone without food, or reduced their intake of food because of a lack of money in the last year.
As over three quarters of households are not getting enough food all the time, dogs are very often malnourished, even when owned.
Sierra Leone has consistently remained near the bottom of world rankings relating to health, and with human health services being so heavily under-resourced, animal health services receive even less funding. Furthermore, any efforts are focused on farm animals, rather than pets or stray dogs and cats.
There is a severe lack of qualified, practising veterinary surgeons: there are less than three vets doing full-time clinical work in the entire country - mostly with farm animals.
At the same time, the population of stray dogs is higher in Sierra Leone than in other African countries: research that CPI analysed in July 2022 found a human to dog ratio of 12:1 - a far greater density than the standard accepted ratio for urban Africa of 21:1.
People are often concerned about dogs in their community, and are usually keen to have their dogs sterilised, but there are no safe and affordable options for the average person.
Our research shows that female dogs are much more likely to be abandoned and die than males. People prefer to keep male dogs because they don’t want to deal with litters of puppies.
Rabies is endemic in Sierra Leone and dog bites are common. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone has made no progress towards the global goal of eliminating rabies by 2030.
Stray dogs are the cause of a considerable amount of fear, and dogs that show any sign of illness are often abandoned for fear they have rabies.
We’ve found that people often think that poor skin is a sign of rabies. This presents a particular problem as a large proportion of dogs suffer from skin conditions like mange.
Reducing the Stray Dog Population in Sierra Leone
Over 75% of dogs born in the street will die by the age of one. Helping to reduce the number of stray dogs improves survival rates, general health and welfare.
Compassionate Paws International is committed to reducing the number of stray dogs.
Twice a year, we bring in highly experienced veterinary professionals to carry out a high intensity spay-neuter clinic. All dogs receive a rabies vaccination, deworming and any further necessary veterinary treatment.
During an average trip, vets will also treat tumours, injuries from car accidents, uterine infections and other life-threatening conditions - directly saving lives during their visit.
At the same time, our visiting vets are able to provide training to local animal health workers in areas such as sterile technique and antimicrobial resistance.
Sterilised stray dogs of both sexes are more likely to live a healthier and longer life.
Female dogs benefit especially well from our clinics as they are less likely to be abandoned or abused if they have no breeding potential.
Our work is data-led - mapping out the areas we work in, and collecting data by doing dog counts and household surveys prior to, and after, each intervention.
We are the only organisation in Freetown actively providing any veterinary care to the city’s stray dogs.
We work in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Freetown City Council to help with their goals on rabies: keeping in mind that human health, animal health and environmental health go hand in hand.
If you’d like to help us help street dogs, then please consider a one-off or monthly donation.
Donated veterinary equipment and medicines are also very useful to us.
All donations received go to the projects.
If you’d like to know more about us, then go to www.compassionatepaws.org.