Our Mumbai vaccine drive to protect dogs against rabies

Find out how we're saving dogs all over the world through Mission Rabies.

Dogs Trust CEO Owen Sharp holding a stray puppy in Mumbai
10th April 2024

Dogs Trust is working towards the day when all dogs can enjoy a happy life, free from the threat of unnecessary destruction. This mission extends far beyond the UK, and our work overseas supports thousands of dogs every year, across five continents, to live happier and healthier lives.

Last year, we merged with Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) and Mission Rabies in an important milestone in the global fight against rabies, one of the deadliest zoonotic diseases in the world. It is responsible for almost 60,000 human fatalities every year, with 20,000 of these fatalities occurring in India. Not only will this merger of our three organisations help to eradicate canine rabies in countries around the world, but it will also transform the welfare standards for dogs and other animals worldwide.

I have recently returned from Mumbai, where I was lucky enough to be a small part of the  canine rabies vaccination campaign which saw 26,951 dogs vaccinated over five days. I joined volunteers from the USA, UK, Romania and Italy, as well as veterinary students from the local veterinary college, NGOs and the teams from WVS and Mission Rabies. Between us, we worked across five hubs around Mumbai to administer rabies vaccinations that will not only save lives but will improve the lives of dogs in the area in so many other ways.

As well as being a fatal disease, rabies changes the relationship between people and dogs. People can be fearful of the dogs they encounter, and unfortunately, some are treated very badly as a result. Vaccination drives like the one I have just returned from change the nature of the relationship between human and dogs, not only by vaccinating to prevent rabies transmission, but also because the teams working in Mumbai take the time to speak to local people to help educate and inform them about the dogs in their area, helping to improve their overall welfare. 

As well as volunteers like me, veterinary professionals and students from all over the world joined this operation, working alongside their Indian counterparts, providing opportunities for knowledge sharing and training, not just in terms of vaccinations but on wider issues affecting dog welfare. This means the local teams who will continue to care for the roaming dogs of India long after we returned home now have more knowledge and skills to support them in their work.

We were also able to talk to local people about the risk of rabies and how to treat dog bites, another important step in the fight against rabies. Experience gained on projects like this all across the world have shown that if the risks are known and appropriate dog bite treatments are understood by those who regularly encounter dogs, then rabies is 100% preventable.

The experience of being a tiny part of the team working in Mumbai was both brilliant and humbling. Every day, teams of around four to six people worked together to cover a geographical area, and everywhere we went, we were met by enthusiastic locals who came out to greet the sea of bright yellow shirts! Mission Rabies has developed a great app which, through GPS data, told each team which area they needed to cover, and helped to capture important data on the dogs we were vaccinating. 

The majority of the dogs were caught by enticing them in with food and help from the local community, there was also a team of specialist “net catchers” who have mastered the art of capturing the dogs who were less keen to see us. Each team had a vet with them who administered the vaccine, and I supported in a “general dogsbody” capacity, laying down food for the dogs, updating the app, and the all-important task of bag carrying! But I also called on my nursing experience, helping to draw up the vaccinations into the syringes. The vaccine had to be kept cool at all times – quite tricky in the 35 degree sunshine - so only a small amount could be prepared in advance. 

The vaccination drive ran incredibly smoothly but an operation like this, involving multiple teams and volunteers, only runs smoothly after months of advanced preparation. It was only possible thanks to the incredible commitment of the teams at WVS and Mission Rabies, and the international and local volunteers who all joined together to make this vaccination drive happen. I know from our day-to-day work in Dogs Trust rehoming centres around the UK that volunteers are vital to the success of the work we do, and the importance of volunteers was very evident during my time in Mumbai. 

One of my most treasured memories of the experience is when everyone involved came together for a ceremony on the final day, to celebrate our shared achievement. I'll never forget the feeling of sheer exhilaration at what we’d managed to do together, or the positivity and enthusiasm from the local officials and government representatives. The support projects like this receive on a local level is vital; achieving our ultimate goal of eliminating canine rabies and improving the lives of dogs across the globe can only be done in partnership with those on the ground who deal with the impact of rabies every day.

26,951 dogs

vaccinated over five days

Find out more about the work we're doing to improve the lives of dogs all over the world. 

Our work around the world

Our global work enables us to create big, positive and sustainable changes in dog welfare across the world.

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