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Phuket’s Soi Dog speaks out on rabies: Genuine outbreak or misinformed panic?

PHUKET: Over the past few weeks, rabies has dominated social media in Thailand. The debate has been covered – and in some cases inflamed – by the traditional print and broadcast media across the country.

animals, health,

Soi Dog Foundation

Tuesday 20 March 2018, 04:45PM

At Soi Dog, operations have been driven for the past 15 years by a concept called CNVR (Capture, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release). Photo; Soi Dog Foundation
At Soi Dog, operations have been driven for the past 15 years by a concept called CNVR (Capture, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release). Photo; Soi Dog Foundation

Some people are now advocating what has been described as “Set Zero”, a massive country-wide slaughter or impounding of all stray dogs, so that the streets will be “safe” again.

Soi Dog Foundation would like to offer our point of view, founded on our work over the past 15 years in improving the stray dog situation and eradicating rabies in Phuket.

Thailand’s record in curbing rabies is excellent, as this comment from the World Health Organisation (WHO), published in September last year, makes clear: “Through mass dog vaccination, and improved access to life-saving rabies PEP, Thailand has reduced the number of human rabies cases by more than 90% since the 1980s.”

So, are we actually experiencing a surge in rabies? All the signs are that no, we are not. According to a recent Bangkok Post article, citing Bureau of Epidemiology statistics, 370 people died in 1980 of rabies. In the 1990s, the annual average human death rate from rabies was around 300.

Last year, the bureau’s records showed just 11 deaths. This year, so far, there have been six. So, are we experiencing a huge surge in rabies? No. We are not. Rabies is endemic across Thailand. What we are seeing is a panic driven by social media and sensational reporting. It’s not an epidemic.

Sadder yet is that all those six deaths should have been preventable. Rabies PEP medication is highly effective if taken early.

It’s a simple rule: If you are bitten or scratched by a dog or cat, or if you have an open wound that has been licked by an animal, you should wash the area very thoroughly with soap and water then go straight to the nearest hospital to get anti-rabies shots. Then you won’t die.

Set Zero is not a solution

The Set Zero solution – getting rid of all the street dogs – is not a solution to the rabies issue anyway.

Imagine if it ever became policy. Could it possibly work? Thailand has at least eight million stray dogs. Could they all be slaughtered? Most unlikely and, even if they could be, try to imagine the global outcry at a predominantly Buddhist country, with its respect for life, introducing such a policy.

Or could they all be impounded? Where would eight million dogs be locked up and looked after properly until they die of old age?

It is also important to note that, historically, more than 40% of the dogs that have been detected as being rabies-infected are pets with owners. These are not street dogs or strays and would therefore, presumably, not be included in any Set Zero campaign.

According to Dr Peerapong Saichua, Permanent Secretary of Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (in an interview with Matichon newspaper in 2015), the figure of 40% is because owners had not taken the simple but crucial step of vaccinating their dogs. That still applies today.

The WHO article mentioned above was published to mark a visit by HRH Princess Chulabhorn to WHO headquarters in Geneva.

In it, Her Royal Highness, who is also a qualified medical doctor, is quoted as making the same point, “To eliminate rabies, you have to give people the knowledge they need and also teach them about their responsibilities…”

It is important to remember that the day you take a dog into your home, it is your responsibility, as its owner, to ensure that the dog receives full and regular vaccinations and stays in good health.

What about the remaining 60%, the street dogs? They, too, can be – and are being – vaccinated. This takes time but is, along with education, the primary reason that rabies deaths among humans have fallen from 300 in the 1990s to 11 last year.

More than a 'one-shot' fix

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But vaccination is not the whole story when it comes to controlling rabies.

A female dog can give birth to four to five puppies every six months, so provided she has access to food, water and shelter, she can, on her own, generate a population of dogs that will number in the thousands within five years.

High numbers, right? If, as Set Zero supporters advocate, you remove dogs from any street by slaughtering or impounding them, they will leave a vacuum that will be filled almost immediately by other dogs from nearby territories wandering in looking for food, water and shelter. Once settled, they will breed.

So, for Set Zero to work, you would not only have to sweep millions of dogs from the streets. You would have to do it all at once or, at least in an impossibly short time – six months?

At Soi Dog, our operations have been driven for the past 15 years by a concept called CNVR (Capture, Neuter, Vaccinate and Release).

We capture stray dogs from their territories, we sterilise them to halt population growth, we vaccinate them to ensure they are healthy and safe to themselves and their environment, and then we release them back into the same territory we took them from.

This method is not only humane but has also been proven to be the safest way to end the stray dog problem and the spread of rabies.

We know it works. In Phuket, we have reduced the street dog population from 80,000 in 2003 to an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 now. And, as a result of the vaccination part of the programme, Phuket is the only province in Thailand that is, according to the government, rabies-free.

This is not just Soi Dog Foundation’s philosophy. All the leading global authorities including the WHO, the Food and Agricultural Division of the United Nations, the Global Alliance for Rabies Control and others are united in their message that vaccinating dogs is the most effective way of eliminating human rabies.

Vaccinating 70% of a canine population in any area will eliminate rabies in that area, provided that other dogs are prevented from entering it.

That in itself is another issue. Even in rabies-free Phuket, authorities allow hundreds of puppies to be shipped in from puppy farms in rabies-endemic areas for sale at markets and pet stores. Those that are unsold are dumped to join the stray population.

Government Livestock offices in every district of Thailand now have ample stocks of rabies vaccine and owners should take their animals as soon as possible to have them vaccinated. In some places, the local authorities will also sterilise dogs free or for a minimal fee.

If owners live in places where Soi Dog is working – Phuket, Phang Nga, Samui and Bangkok – they can have their pets vaccinated and sterilised. Free. The schedules for Soi Dog mobile clinics are constantly updated on our Facebook Page (

Vaccination and Sterilisation, combined with more stringent rules on the transport of pets from one province to another form the only solution.

The “Set Zero” concept is not only horrifically cruel. It would also be doomed to failure.

To learn more about CNVR and the work of Soi Dog Foundation over the past 15 years, visit the website




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tamsyn | 21 March 2018 - 16:05:16

Well said. I\'m disgusted with the hyperbole surrounding this non issue (rabies deaths are at their lowest in actual FACT), to boost yet another multi threaded topic on a particular expat forum from which the usual bellicose call for the outright slaughter of Thailand\'s animals.

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CaptainJack69 | 21 March 2018 - 11:54:09

What constitutes a 'stray' dog in Thailand? There is no system of animal registration or licensing and many people keep animals in a semi-feral manner. They play with these animals and sometimes feed them but they don't take responsibility for them or vaccinate them. If they are aggressive or bite they do nothing about it. But if people try and act against them they get upset.

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Rorri_2 | 21 March 2018 - 11:52:47

I must assume that the writer of this comment "I am sure the intelligent readers who can read and comprehend don't bother with stupid incomprehensible comments of certain commentators," is not one on the "intelligent" readers. 

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CaptainJack69 | 21 March 2018 - 11:43:16

The power of FaceBook and the importance of education. A friend of mine was in a panic a couple of days ago because she thought some dogs (clean, healthy, domestic dogs) might have been near her food.  I tried to tell her that you can only catch rabies through an open wound, but this hysteria had her convinced she needed to go to the hospital and start a course of rabies shots.

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Pauly44 | 20 March 2018 - 19:17:57

With all the over development, garbage & raw crap freely flowing through the streets and onto the beaches, areas of Phuket are most certainly a health hazard!  

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Jor12 | 20 March 2018 - 19:16:18

I am sure the intelligent readers who can read and comprehend don't bother with stupid incomprehensible comments of certain commentators. 

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suave | 20 March 2018 - 18:34:41

I love how eloquently his guy twists and skewers facts into what he would like the world to be for these poor strays. The fact is I see very few that look healthy an happy. Most are starving, limping and have some kind of skin problem an a vacant look in their eye. Vaccinating only makes it so that they dont spread rabies, it does not turn their world into a Disney movie.

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DeKaaskopp | 20 March 2018 - 17:35:59

One person wrote yesterday:"Phuket offers now many serious and dangerous health problems to inhabitants and tourists....Rabies around!The same person should read this article now and stop his panic-mongering!

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Kurt | 20 March 2018 - 17:23:49

Very interesting article. All the works and efforts of Soi dog foundation are great. But how to recognize a vaccinated stray dog? 
Phuket has dog-beach regulations, dogs only allowed at beach certain time of the day, on lease.
But I see daily free roaming stray dogs at Phuket beaches, so? Not remove them?  Phuket Dog Beach Regulations? What?
This all is not comforting tourists with children.

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