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Marching Forward...In Kenya!

For the last six years, Veterinarians International has supported the Laikipia Rabies Vaccine Campaign (LRVC) with our partners at Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. Despite this past year’s many challenges associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic, this was the most successful campaign to date with 21,493 dogs and cats receiving their much-needed rabies vaccinations. We wish to thank the Meringoff Family Foundation for all their support, making this achievement possible.

Every year, at least 2,000 people die due to contracting rabies from dog bites, children being the most vulnerable. It is thought that this number is severely underreported because most cases occur in rural areas, and testing is extremely difficult. Fortunately, however, rabies is 100% preventable through vaccinating dogs and cats. The benefits from vaccinating stretch far and wide. Vaccinated dogs and cats not only save human lives, but protect local wildlife such as wild dogs, hyenas, lions, leopards, and other critical species necessary to balance the ecosystem.

Our Vice President of Programs Erin Ivory and Kenya Representative Dr. Grace Watene participated in the Laikipia Rabies Vaccination Campaign (LRVC). Alongside staff members, volunteers, local community elders, and government officials, they gathered early in the morning and prepared for a long, grueling day in the heat where they rode in one of eight vehicles across the vast Laikipia County and traveled to two types of communities— pastoralists and farmers. 

Pastoralists are herders that move around with their livestock in search of food and water, and the dogs that accompany them act as protectors from predators. Since the homes are spread out, the teams go home to home looking for dogs to vaccinate. While this method is successful, it’s both time consuming and comes with a fair share of nomadic uncertainty.

Fortunately, the arrangements in the farming communities are different. Farmers stay in a single location to cultivate crops, so the owners would bring their dogs to us. However, the dogs in these communities are free-roaming, and placing them on a leash came with some challenges.

Yet, both communities have something in common: the relationship between owners and their dogs is very different from what we are used to in the US. For many families, dogs are not pets, they are protectors and fend for their own food. As such, they are unaccustomed to the human touch. But what’s interesting to note is that the dogs are managed by children, usually young boys. 

With fear being the main motivator for animal aggression, if we can improve the human-animal relationship we can reduce reactive bites and therefore a major cause in potential spread of rabies. All it takes is proper training on animal handling techniques and patience.