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From the Field

My dog, Willow, at home on my bed—most people wouldn’t give a second glance, other than to say—cute dog.  But in Africa, people were amazed—a dog in your bed? Really?

Yet dogs and cats are in so many Kenyan’s homes—maybe not on their beds, but close by guarding, protecting the home from invaders—be it a snake or a person! These pets (and yes they are pets, just not the same as how we think of our dogs and cats) provide important service to their owners. One cat owner told that her home was free of snakes because her cats kept them out. Where did the cat sleep I asked—in the “living room” on a sofa!

I watched dogs walk in and out of the homes of the pastoralists, maybe not getting on the bed, but interacting with everyone and everything.

My reason for being in Kenya was to assess if VI could help provide Rabies programs as over two thousand people (mainly children and mainly boys) die from Rabies every year. Kenya has a Master Plan to eradiate Rabies by 2030 and there are a lot of people working to do just this. However, spay and neuter is almost unknown outside of Nairobi so twice a year dogs can have puppies –which need to be vaccinated. Dog’s lifespan in Kenya may only be 4 years—still trying to find this study—so massive overturn of the dog population, which needs to be vaccinated.

And, although dogs are around and in the homes, what do people really think about the dogs?

What I learned really didn’t surprise me much. Even in Africa you have cat people and dog people! Those who favor cats did so for several reasons—smaller and therefore ate less, thus decreasing the cost of owning one.  For some reason, cats are considered to not get rabies in Africa. (Something I am working to get data on)

Dogs are the pets favored by young boys and it is not unusual for a young boy to have a dog and not necessarily tell his mother. Dogs are fed whatever the people are eating—food is saved and fed to them.  However, there isn’t much thought given to the dog’s welfare or health—until it gets sick.  In one place we visited, I was told if a dog becomes sick the children will kill it—not the adults, as that is taboo. (Don’t ask how they may kill a dog, let’s just say it is not a quick and painless death)

Everywhere I went, people knew about Rabies and they knew they should immediately go to the hospital—but the children might not tell the elders they had been bitten and I heard may stories of people being treated for malaria, tick fever, or other more common diseases and Rabies not being diagnosed.  The child is sent home and the death is not reported.

The sad thing is once a dog is seen as being Rabid the knee jerk action is to put out poison to kill ALL dogs (of course it kills more than just dogs….)

One official at VSF-Germany said: “Dogs are a part of human life” and I couldn’t agree more.  Dogs (and I will add cats) are a part of our lives and the lives of those everywhere.  I know if we can start helping by vaccinating dogs (and cats) against Rabies all the while teaching children animal welfare and animal health one day dogs (and cats) in the pastoralist areas of Kenya will be sleeping on their owner’s beds!