Report on ABC program in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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.

The Ethiopian vets had spayed and neutered nearly 800 dogs in the nine-month program, but their goal was 1200 and they had run into problems. The Coalition provided the training (image at left, Dr. Mike Dix performs latest spay/neuter techniques), equipment for two clinics, medical supplies and a program coordinator, but the program also depended upon the commitment of the city authorities to provide vehicles, pay staff and set up the clinic buildings.  Towards the end of the program, the numbers slowed because of difficulties getting use of city vehicles, and some staffing issues.

I joined Dr. Anteneh Roba, director of IFA, in Addis Ababa last week to discuss the problems with city officials and explore ways of continuing the ABC program as an alternative to poisoning street dogs.  Incidentally Animal Birth Control is the  term used internationally to describe what is more usually referred to as TNR (trap, neuter, return) in the US.

The hills that comprise much of Addis were shrouded in mist from the late rainy season as we set out to tour the four clinics the city had established around the city for the program.  Each consisted of small walled compounds with animal holding cages and one building having a surgery, prep room, office and toilet.  Adequate to the task though minimally equipped by US standards.  Dr. Tigist, one of the vets trained in spaying and neutering, by Best Friends head vet Dr. Michael Dix on his 2009 visit here, greeted us proudly at the first clinic.  Three dogs had been picked up earlier and were being prepped for surgery and receiving rabies vaccinations.

With deft hands Dr. Tigist spayed the first dog after which two white-coated techs carried the dog to the recovery area.  The system clearly worked well.  We just needed to re-charge the city bureaucrats to get the program moving again.

Anteneh had been working over the previous weeks with his Ethiopian contacts to set up meetings with important people in the administration.  The mayor was away so he went straight to the city manager, who proved to be just the right person.  Anteneh and I, Shewaneh and Seble also from IFA, Dr. Tesfaye who coordinated the pilot program from Addis, the heads of the Health Department, Trade and Industry Department and a senior official from the Agriculture Department filed into a conference room.  The city manager entered with an African flourish, accompanied by two assistants who with an element of ritual served us all coffee.  Ah, that exquisite Ethiopian coffee!

We moved quickly to business.  The city manager was all about numbers.  From the Health Dept.: 1600 people per year, mostly children, were being bitten by rabid dogs.  From the Agriculture Dept.: there were about 200,000 street dogs in the city (probably a lot more, no one really knows), but the clinics only do about 5 dogs per day.  Anteneh and I chimed in that this could be raised to 50 per day, 4 clinics equals 200 per day.

The city manager interrupted why not do 2000 per day?  Er, well…  The Agriculture head fumbled to justify the problems, but didn’t make much headway.  I joined the numbers game by explaining that, with the right resources – vets, staff, vehicles, supplies - at 200 per day it might take about 3 years to come close to eliminating the problem.  We had proved the capability of the staff, and could find ways of speeding them up, and anyway the problem would diminish as more dogs were vaccinated and fixed.

The city manager turned to his deputies and told them in no uncertain terms “make it happen”. This was a ‘no nonsense’ guy.  Although some of the conversation was in Amharic there was no mistaking the message, jobs were on the line.  Just what we wanted.  Just what the dogs (and the bite victims) need.

We came away delighted.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society