Dog catching and desexing with the SARAH Program.

In October and November 2009, I was volunteering in Sikkim and spent time in the capital Gangtok and also in the north, based at the village of Lachung.


In Gangtok and the bigger towns, dogs are generally caught by hand, often with help from the locals or with the aid of a large ‘butterfly’ net and some careful stalking.

Catching dogs with nets

Trapping of the dogs in the north is a more complex procedure. The dogs are semi-wild or feral (called junglykukur in the local language – as in jungle and kukur equals dog. Quite charming really). The dogs are mostly associated with the numerous army bases which are ever present throughout Sikkim.

Dogs are trapped in large portable cages about 3 metre square. They have two ‘human’ doors and one drop down door for the dogs. For a number of nights, all doors are left open and the trap liberally baited with ‘chicken delicacies’. When the dogs are familiarised with the ‘feed station’, the human doors are closed and the dog door is set open. Someone stands away in a concealed place with a long rope and some minutes or hours later depending on the dogs and the night, the trapdoor is released and hopefully two to six victims are caught! Smaller traps for individual dogs are also utilised, the door released automatically by the dog’s feet when they fully enter the cage.

Trapping depends on chickens. In Lachung there is no readily available meat supply of any type, for man or beast. Supplies must be obtained from butchers in Mangan, fifty kilometres away. The exception is the army. Food supplies are trucked to them on a regular basis. Chickens arrive Wednesdays and Sundays. They come alive in round wicker baskets about a metre and a half in diameter with about twenty or thirty birds in each. It seems a more sensible way to transport meat, when refrigeration is not available.

So the bait for the traps comes from what is discarded in the butchering process. It appears that the chickens are all slaughtered on the day of arrival, processed and fed to the troops that night or perhaps through to the next day. Refrigeration is not commonly available. So on ‘chicken days’, various members of the SARAH team are positioned strategically outside the three or four messes, where the chicken ‘preparation’ is to take place.

Squeamish readers please skip the next paragraph!

At the appropriate time the chickens in their baskets are carried to the modern, fully equipped ‘abattoir’. Well not exactly… they are carried up the hill a bit, to where there is a reasonably flat little ‘terrace’ of earth. There they are quickly dispatched with a swift blow to the back of the neck (reasonably humane) and rapidly the head, feet and all the skin with feathers attached are removed. It’s interesting that the skin is removed – I think it may be to save having to pluck out all the feathers and also perhaps for hygiene reasons. The ‘insides’ are removed. The SARAH team hover around like vultures (or junglykukur) waiting to grab these delicacies. The skin with feathers is the tastiest for the dogs. A large trapping cage, liberally ‘decorated’ with these offerings, in some ways resembles a Pagan Incan
Temple on a festival day. It really does need to be seen to be believed.

So… almost all the dogs are trapped at night and when I was there in November it was starting to get quite cold at altitude 9,000 feet when mid-winter is December / January! Any trapped dogs are immediately sedated by injection (ketamine) and as soon as they are reasonably quiet are placed in smaller transportable cages and relocated to the site of tomorrow’s ‘operating suite’. There they are ‘bedded down’ for the night, cages close together in a sheltered place to try and keep them reasonably warm and out of the elements.

In the VBB information sheets, the outstation operating conditions are described as ‘primitive’. In my opinion this is not correct. The ABC (Animal Birth Control) strict protocols are still largely followed (fully autoclaved instruments, full skin preparation etc). The only difference is that often the operating theatre is outdoors, or under a tarpaulin awning that the army has rigged for us, or in the forecourt of someone’s front yard. As long as the wind isn’t severe, I feel the situation is as good as encountered in many Australian Vet Clinics. The army probably need to send some of their medical staff to learn how human surgery could perhaps be better performed in wartime conditions, following this well thought out, Veterinary expertise.

Most recovery takes place in the trapping cages – both large and small. Most animals are released late afternoon when steady on their feet and showing signs of becoming anxious in the confines of the cages. The majority wander off as though nothing much has happened to them. Good to see. If there has been trouble or complications, often a shed or room can be found to house the animal for a day or two, to keep it sheltered and ‘spoiled’ with a couple of chicken heads or some household scraps.


Desexing in Gangtok has been highly successful, however much more work is needed in the north.

Alan Sherlock.