Counting dogs in Addis Ababa

By Gregory Castle

Best Friends CEO Gregory Castle is in Africa following up on a project that Best Friends started two years ago to provide an alternative to the poisoning of street dogs in the Ethiopian capital city of Addis Ababa. He will then attend a conference in Kenya concerning the future of animal welfare in Africa.

Why Africa? Since 2003, Best Friends has sponsored conferences and pilot projects in Asia, The Middle East and Africa in order to help sow the seeds of no-kill in developing countries before old line catch and kill sheltering practices are adopted from the west. These very small investments have reaped big rewards for animals around the globe.

Two years ago Best Friends worked with the Amsale Gessessee Memorial Foundation (now International Fund for Africa) and Humane Society International (the Coalition) creating a pilot program to address the problem of street dogs in Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia.

In early 2009 a party of experienced Indian professionals joined together with Best Friends experts to train Ethiopian veterinarians, techs and dog-catchers in ABC (Animal Birth Control). Best Friends CEO Gregory Castle, while visiting a conference on animal welfare in Nairobi, took a side trip to Addis Ababa to check on the program. He sent this report.

Counting dogs in Addis Ababa

I met up with Merritt Clifton at 6:30pm in the lobby of the hotel in Addis Ababa where we are both staying. It was just beginning to get dark.   Editor of ‘Animal People’ newspaper, Merritt writes about animal issues all over the world, and has traveled to much of it.  We were here, coincidentally at the same time, for different reasons.  One of the things Merritt does almost wherever he goes, especially in countries of the developing world, is to attempt to assess the numbers of street animals in urban environments.

This has special interest for me because one of the problems we face in helping set up an animal birth control (ABC) program to reduce the number of street dogs in Addis Ababa, capital city of Ethiopia, is the fact that no one really knows how many there are.  I have known Merritt for a long time and he has told me that he has some personal methods of assessing animal numbers.  I was intrigued to learn more.

As the light faded we headed out into the streets of Addis for a vigorous walk through some of its streets and alleyways.  Merritt explained that this is the best time to see the animals because so many of them are curled up, hiding in corners during the day.  The city is a densely populated (5 million people), somewhat ramshackle conglomeration of modest, poorly constructed buildings, some larger office buildings, and many shanty town areas constructed mostly of corrugated metal, though sporting TV satellite dishes on their flimsy roofs.  Only the main streets are paved, most are more like rocky, puddled pathways.

Merritt sets off at a cracking pace counting dogs as we go. He’s good at spotting them.  “There’s one, and there another”, he usually sees them before I do.  We are both fairly tall and have a history of running, so I can just keep up with him.  Merritt has a method of crisscrossing an area trying to count all the animals in that sector.  He aims to cover one square mile approximately each time he does this, and depending on the layout it may or may not be quite systematic.

It’s getting dark, and unlit alleyways through shantytown with plenty of people traffic don’t make the job any easier.  But we have a count.  Merritt announces “OK that’s 13 dogs and 6 cats.  I figure we need to multiply that by four because we probably only saw 25% of the animals.  That makes 54 dogs and 24 cats in this square mile.”  Merritt plans to cover some other areas of the city in the next couple of days.  Averaging out his results and researching how many square miles there are in the city will get him to a citywide number.  The method is a little basic, and my gut tells me that it probably underestimates, but at least it’s something.  Most people just guess.

One thing we’ve noticed is that most of the dogs look fairly well fed, and comfortable in their surroundings.  The job of the ABC program we are working to develop here is to get them sterilized and vaccinated, so the rabies threat is minimized and their breeding is minimized.  The people don’t really see them as pets, but they like having them around.  Some will wander into a dwelling, hang out for a bit, then return to the streets. They’re true community animals.

Dog No-Kill 2025

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society