Stroll along the terraced rice fields of Pana, hike the switchbacks to the 17th-century Cheri Monastery in Thimphu, or explore the back alleys of Paro and you’ll see the same thing: dogs. They are everywhere in Bhutan. During the day, naps took place on median strips and sidewalks and in transport hubs without noticing the people and vehicles swirling around them. Others seem to have busy schedules, going to the monastery in the morning and then driving back to meet friends in the parking lot and go on afternoon adventures. Near temples and landmarks, they follow visitors hoping for flyers or looking for shade under parked cars.
If you look a little closer, you’ll notice something unusual: most of them – actually about 75,000 of the country’s estimated 100,000 dogs – have a triangular notch in their left ear. This identification marks the dog as neutered or vaccinated against rabies. It is also a major milestone in the world of animal welfare.
Tiny Bhutan is located in the Himalayas between China in the north and India in the south. It is perhaps best known for its Gross Happiness Index, which applies Buddhist cultural and spiritual values to socio-economic development. The fact that these Buddhist values extend to all living beings is one of the reasons why Bhutan is now seven years after the world’s first – and arguably most successful – nationwide spay-and-neuter effort, the reverberation of which is almost certainly felt outside the country is its limits.
Working with Humane Society International (HSI), Bhutan has now spayed about 75 percent of its estimated dog population, reaching the critical tipping point where most animal welfare professionals believe a population will stabilize (meaning that growth will stop and the total number will decline ). Maintaining this percentage requires approximately 3,200 sterilizations per year. The Bhutanese team, now comprised of seasoned veterinarians, veterinary technicians, administrators and dog catchers, intends to do this and more – reach between 10,000 and 12,000 dogs per year and realize their dream of reducing the dog population as well as overall health to improve .