Beware! That stray dog is a public health risk

[Mercy Kahenda, Standard]

Dear daktari, I am a dairy farmer on the outskirts of Eldoret town. But I am normally disturbed by the sight of many street animals like dogs, sheep, goats and cattle that move around in towns scavenging from dumpsites and on the streets. The interesting thing is that these street livestock have owners. Does the law allow for this? What about the dogs? I see a lot of risks like rabies from dog bites. What can be done? [Stephen Kimaiyo, Eldoret]

Thank you Mr Kimaiyo for your inquiry. I am also normally disturbed by the sight of a pack of dogs in the midst of humans in towns. When I spot them, what comes to mind is rabies, a deadly zoonotic viral disease.

Street Livestock

Livestock that are left to scavenge on the streets and to roam in towns also present a health risk. One is in the dirty things they eat, and which will eventually find their way into the human food chain. But also, is the danger that lurks in their very presence in urban areas - especially on the roads. The mass media has reported many cases of such animals being knocked down and the anger that follows. For this history annals have many cases in Ancient England for example there was a law that stated that 'anyone practicing animal husbandry is responsible for ensuring animals don't constitute an unreasonable public hazard'. So, this means that if a cow, camel, or sheep, or any form of livestock, wanders onto a public road and causes an accident and that's due to the negligence of the farmer.

The farmer would be liable for cattle trespass, for the damage caused to the vehicle and for the injuries sustained by the occupants. I am not sure whether this will find a place in Kenya. But I know that many counties have outlawed the roaming of livestock on the streets inasmuch as this is still a common practice.

Australia has a law that deals with any livestock found on its streets - the Impounding of Livestock Act of 1994. New Zealand law puts to task the livestock owner who fails to take care of their animals and lets them into public spaces especially roads. Two recent cases have seen farmers of such animals fined heavily for damages.

Stray dogs

Stray dogs are a public health hazard. They can easily spread rabies a deadly disease and as such the Rabies Control Act CAP 365 of the Kenyan laws puts in place legal measures to protect the public. It was common in the olden days for such dogs to be poisoned using Strychnine, but this has been outlawed as it infringed on the animal welfare as outlined in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (CAP 360). There have been efforts to further buttress the issue of stray dogs - I am not sure whether the Control of Stray Dogs Bill of 2019 come to fruition. Nonetheless various animal welfare organisations like World Animal Protection and the State Department of Veterinary Services have been on the forefront in advocating for responsible dog ownership.

They have sensitised the public on the importance of restraining their dogs at home and getting the annual rabies jabs. But an influx of dogs into towns and cities is also a pointer to poor food waste management coupled with irresponsible dog owners, a mix of these two lures the dogs into urban centres and with lots of food they multiple and soon cause a population explosion putting many human lives at risk.

[The writer is a veterinary surgeon and the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO]