When I first went to Peru, I asked my colleagues who had spent a lot of time in country about these dogs. Assumptions were plentiful, but hard data was virtually non-existent. Even though scientists pride themselves on depending on verifiable data, I was surprised to see the certainty with which my colleagues held on to their opinions and conjecture. One of those assumptions was that because such horrible conditions were tolerated, that Peruvians didn’t care about dogs.
Nothing could be further from the truth, of course. Naturally, the well-groomed purebreds walked in the nice parks of San Isidro and Miraflores were loved as family members, but the down and dirty dogs of the poor neighborhoods were just everyday scenery, neither appreciated nor worried about.
When we did our study on Ehrlichia (which ended up being a study on Bartonella!), we accompanied it with an informal survey: we asked owners how they felt about their dogs. We found that the residents of pueblos jovens care just as much about their dogs as typical North American owners.
We weren’t shocked (Imagine that! Poor people care about their pets as well!). No one had bothered to ask question, though, but now we had at least some solid evidence that our understanding of knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding dogs was deficient in the extreme. We also noticed that there were a LOT of dogs around, and that it might be useful to get an idea of the size of the burden of dog overpopulation in these neighborhoods if we wanted to make some progress.
WE ARE STARTING
Beginning this month, we are beginning a painstakingly accurate and precise survey on the dog population of Lomo de Corvina, a pueblo joven in the south Lima metropolitan area. We have partners (PRISMA), who have worked extensively in this area, and together we hope to increase the knowledge base concerning what we believe is an important subject.
Even if one doesn’t care about dogs, it’s important to remember that with dogs come two potential problems: rabies and dog bites. Just in the United States, a country with relatively good (though patchy) infrastructure in matters of animal control, there are still 5 million dog bites per year, which result in 800,000 visits to emergency rooms annually. Consider that most of these bites are to children. Also, it is important to remember that dogs are the most significant reservoir of rabies worldwide, and that NO rabies deaths, along with the terrible suffering that precedes it, are acceptable. Once again, children bear the brunt.