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A Closer Look at Safer Children: Rabies in Africa & Erin’s Kenyan Expedition, Part 1


Never in the history of humankind has it been more evident that we are all interconnected. Distancing ourselves from the impact of events across the world, be they environmental, or with our fellow human beings, has proven to be regrettable.

The CDC estimates that more than 60% of human infectious diseases originate in animals. When a virus affects most of humanity and impacts the microcosmic well-being and economic survival of billions of individuals, the balance of life on Earth is unmistakably askew.

With this sense of urgency, Veterinarians International’s mission to build harmony between animals and humans is now, more than ever, of critical importance to the welfare of our planet.

Vice President of Programs, Erin Ivory’s premiere expedition to Africa was a multifaceted and fruitful venture. The primary focus of the trip was to ascertain what is working and where challenges lie within Veterinarians International programs and partnership efforts, which sustain global well-being.

The Laikipia Rabies Vaccine Campaign: A Closer Look

Children are at the highest risk via reactive dog bites and at least 2000 people die each year from rabies Kenya. This number is undoubtedly a sizable underestimation due to the fact that most cases occur in remote locales and testing is problematic.

Vaccinating dogs and cats prevents loss of life and protects local wildlife to maintain a balance of ecosystems.

Beginning at dawn and finishing at dusk, Erin Ivory and Kenyan representative Dr. Grace Watene led a three-day Laikipia Rabies Vaccine Campaign traveling in rural areas through blistering heat, along with staff, volunteers, community elders, and government officials.

Local leaders were highly effective and the coordination of this group was amazing; 300 dogs were vaccinated in one spot alone! 

Many locals warned the campaign group that the dogs in pastoral communities (herders) would be harder to vaccinate because of their free-ranging and semi-feral nature, but the team found these dogs were calmer and easier to work with than in the farming communities where the dogs were chained in the yard or kept in small spaces.

In one touching instance, a pastoral wife placed a hand on top of a dog’s head to settle him. He immediately relaxed for the vaccination and a young cow meandered over to gently nuzzle the dog.

For a lack of things to do, kids would congregate and stay all day to watch the vaccinations. Tires and sticks were the only other form of entertainment. Cats arrived in bags and the number of puppies brought in was astounding. Naturally, the demand and necessity for a spaying/neutering program is high.

With an unknown dog population (estimated between 30,000 – 100,000), a deeper understanding of the demographics of dogs; their ages, life span, numbers, breeds, and overall health is crucial in determining what is best needed for intervention and care.

In North America and many First World countries, dogs and cats are a part of our lives for very different reasons than in Africa. We have the luxury of keeping pets as companions and they become an integral part of the family. They are provided with nutritious food, creature comforts, and get healthcare whenever required.

In Laikipia, the dogs are retained as security and protection and cats are kept for pest control. Pastoralists bring their dogs to accompany them on water and food finding treks to safeguard against predators. 

In Africa, dogs and cats are not provided kibbles and canned food; they hunt or scavenge for their food, which is not always optimal for good health.

With that in mind, dogs are frequently aggressive, are not kept on leashes, and are “unruly” compared to the taming and domestication we know. 

During the campaign, children were asked to participate during school hours by going home to get their pets for vaccination. Bringing them back to school posed a challenge; the dogs are mostly free-roaming and in their confusion, many did not take well to being leashed (roped) and hauled to school.

One young boy stood out. His dog was extremely afraid, and the was boy scared of the dog. Highly reactive, the dog would snap, and with other dogs around, he was agitated. The boy was only one in the family who handled the dog and his fear made his dog more anxious and aggressive. This type of dog is more likely to transmit rabies because their biting is a protective survival mechanism.

It is a necessity for families to have dogs that will protect; however, there is a significant need to help create a balance between security and human safety, which would lower the risk of bites and aggressive behaviour towards dog owners and the locals.

On vacation breaks, Vets International plans to run camps and theatre puppy classes to teach children and teens how to build cohesive relationships with their dogs and offer them an understanding of animal behaviour. They will be shown how to work with their dogs, cats, and livestock with kindness and empathy for the good of all.

People with a natural ability to communicate with their animals were identified and Vets International foresees a targeted training program to help others work with dogs, if they so desire. These influencers would also share, through community engagement, the importance of vet care.

People with a natural ability to communicate with their animals were identified and Vets International foresees a targeted training program to help others work with dogs, if they so desire. These influencers would also share, through community engagement, the importance of vet care.

Veterinarian technicians play a large role in the care of animals. The vet kits are acutely lacking in equipment and items as basic as gloves are desperately needed in the field. Parasite medicines and an understanding of animal-human transmission is sorely needed. Rabies shots are critical to have on hand for people to have as soon as they’ve been bitten; without them, children die.

Veterinarians International is pleased with the accomplishments of the Laikipia Rabies Vaccine Campaign and the information gathered on current systems in place and cultural values and habits. 

With the help of the Meringoff Family Foundation, a vastly successful vaccination of 22,000 dogs and cats will save the lives of many.

Care for the animals of Earth is care for all. To learn more about our work, please visit us at www.vetsinternational.org