The shadow of rabies in Sierra Leone
With only four vets in the entire country and an overwhelming population of stray dogs, the welfare situation is very serious. We're working towards humane solutions to the issues that cause fear, misunderstanding and a divide between a community and their dogs.
In Freetown, Sierra Leone, ten years of civil war followed by the Ebola epidemic have left a stray dog population on the verge of catastrophe. Locals estimate that up to 500,000 dogs roam the city, many abandoned, or made homeless by this compound crisis.
The stray population is the densest in Africa. The number of roaming dogs continues to rise – and so too does the frequency of dog-bite incidents, and human deaths from rabies. Every dog represents a potential threat. Understandably, people are afraid.
Though in many places stray dogs are treated well by local communities, people for the most part just can’t afford to vaccinate and care for dogs properly.
The welfare situation is very serious – with only four qualified vets in the entire country, Sierra Leone has virtually no capacity to deal with the needs of these animals, and the threat of disease is never far away.
Our team in Freetown were shocked to hear countless stories of people and animals killed by rabies, which is fatal if untreated.
“Urgent is an understatement. We need to go in, now.” Said Tennyson Williams, Africa Regional Director for World Animal Protection.
Dogs are starving, injured and sick – roaming in the streets they’re frequently knocked down by cars and hurt or killed.
“It takes a while to grasp the sheer number of stray or roaming dogs in Freetown. At first you just notice the odd dog flinching before traffic, scavenging in drains or sleeping under cars. But little by little you realize that there is dog like this every few meters, on every street, in every part of the city. The amount of them is overwhelming and the condition of many is heart breaking,” said Georgina Parker of World Animal Protection.
But lack of understanding about the way rabies spreads means they’re also at risk from frightened people, who think that killing dogs will keep them safe from the deadly virus.
With no support or resources to deal with the perceived threat, dogs are killed as a solution.
All were bitter tragedies that could have been prevented with the right approach to the disease. And all shared a common message: it’s getting worse. Communities need help to manage this threat.
A comprehensive solution
Our work in the region, in partnership with the Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society, has already begun.
Our goal is nothing less than to eliminate rabies in the stray dog population of Sierra Leone – beginning with a pilot dog population management project in Freetown, focused on education, vaccination and dog registration.
By working to ensure dogs aren’t a threat, we’ll help protect them from violence too – helping create a world where people and animals can live side by side peacefully again.
You can help us heal this broken bond between the community of Freetown and their dogs. Subscribe to our newsletter to learn more.