Who Let the Dogs Out?

The pet trade has evolved in recent years from individual vendors hawking puppies on the roadside to full-fledged pet stores and social media sites offering high-end breeds to increasingly eager customers. An evolving attitude to dog ownership means that demand continues to grow, with some breeds selling for as much as ETB 250,000. The booming trade is only one side of the story for the dogs of Addis Ababa, as untold numbers of the canines still live on the streets, posing serious public health concerns, writes EBR’s Tirualem Asmare.

Roaming the streets of Bole District, one might witness young men and women on the roadside holding puppies for sale. If traffic is slow, the vendors might go around knocking on car windows naming their offers for the small animals. Although it is not a new phenomenon, the market for dogs in Addis Ababa has evolved.

Not very long ago, most people viewed dogs simply as sentinels raised and kept as a means of protecting property. Now, the idea that dogs can serve a higher purpose as companions has caught on, and more and more of the capital’s residents are willing to spend a pretty penny to buy and pamper the kind of dog they want.

Supply has adjusted to meet demand, and young men and women vending puppies on the streets face competition from more formal channels. Among the businesses that have jumped into the lucrative pet market are Hirna Ethiopia, Ethio Pets, Engocha Dogs, Qefira, Loozap, and Jiji. These businesses do most of their marketing on social media.

The formalized pet trade also comes with the introduction of various, and often expensive, dog breeds. These include the Husky, French Bulldog, Yorkshire Terrier, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, and American Pitbull Terrier, among others.

Samuel Bekele, 36, has been in the pet trade for the last five years. The father of three operates Lions Pets, a store located near the Dutch Embassy. He started off his business with a female American Pitbull that he bought for ETB 30,000 before adding a German Shepherd and a Siberian Husky to his collection.

He observes that the German Shepherd – often prized as a guard dog – remains the most in-demand breed. The starting price for a puppy is ETB 10,000, but it keeps climbing as the dog ages and vendors factor in feeding and other costs. The dogs are fed between one and three kilos of chicken every day. However, the German Shepherd is far from being the most expensive breed – some puppies can fetch as much as ETB 250,000.

“It is my love for dogs that motivated me to enter the business,” Samuel told EBR. “Dogs are very loving – I was inspired by that and I started breeding. The idea of selling dogs was not well received at first, but now that attitude seems to be changing to give us a good opportunity for business.”

In the first week of November, EBR met Eyob Mohammed, a project manager at a local NGO, buying a dog from a small business behind Yeha Building, in front of Addis Ababa Stadium. After haggling for a bit, Eyob agreed to pay ETB 15,000 for a puppy.

“My wife and I used to live in a two-bedroom condominium,” said Eyob, explaining why he was buying the puppy. “Now, everything feels empty after we moved into a three-story house. The house has so many rooms, I thought the dog might give us extra companionship and fun.”

Studies indicate that owning a pet dog can offer a number of physical and psychological health benefits. Owning a dog has been linked to reduced mortality rates, lower blood pressure, and improved stress tolerance. Therapy dogs are used to help ease tension and anxiety, while people suffering from heart disease can enjoy significant risk reduction simply by keeping a dog. The activities associated with being a dog owner (namely walking) contribute to overall health and recovery.

A 2019 study from the UK found that dog owners are almost four times as likely as non-dog owners to reach recommended daily physical activity levels. The average dog owner spends nearly 300 minutes walking each week – 200 minutes more than those who do not own a dog.

Studies looking at how dogs affect senior citizens and their mental health showed positive outcomes. The four-legged friends offer unconditional love and support, which are crucial in difficult times. Dogs take care of the owner, and contrary to what some people may believe; this is supported by scientific evidence.

Although it is difficult to establish an undisputed link between dog ownership and mental health, it has become common practice in developed countries for mental health professionals to recommend dog ownership as a form of therapy.

Anxiety is among the psychological conditions that can be eased by the presence of a dog. Short-term, unstructured interactions with a therapy dog have been shown to considerably lower levels of self-reported anxiety and discomfort. In contrast to when they are alone, when a parent is there, or when a stuffed dog is present, kids who have their pet dog or a therapy dog present during a stressful task have lower reported stress and higher positive affect.

There are social and biological mechanisms at work in addition to psychological ones. A dog can act as a reassuring, understanding presence as well as a helpful tactile and sensory diversion in these momentarily stressful situations. By affecting emotion control while coping with a stressor, dog interaction may help alleviate anxiety and distress.

Having a dog present during psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, can help patients who have undergone trauma reduce their self-reported nervous arousal and distress, improving the therapeutic treatment process.

Dogs can be a source of inspiration as well. For instance, dog owners are more likely to adhere to the demands of daily living. A growing body of studies also indicates that interactions with dogs may specifically benefit people with physical limitations and chronic diseases psychologically. The psychological and emotional functioning of people with disabilities can improve when they live with a specially trained support dog, such as a guide, hearing, or service dog.

It has also been suggested that having a psychiatric service dog is linked to fewer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, less despair and anxiety, and higher quality of life for those with mental diseases.

However, it is not all love between dogs and the residents of Addis Ababa. The capital is home to thousands of dogs that have been abandoned by their former owners, while tens or hundreds of thousands more simply live as street dogs.

These animals are a serious concern for public health, according to Yimer Mulugeta (MD), a public health researcher and coordinator of animal disease. He observes the most serious threat from street dogs is a disease – namely, canine distemper. It is an illness that is easily transmitted to humans and a single dog can infect up to 50 people. Like rabies, the disease is almost impossible to cure upon infection.

“There seems to be no difference between a dog with an owner and one not claimed by anyone,” Dr. Yimer told EBR.

The virus that causes canine distemper can lie dormant for up to two months.

Ownerless dogs must first be identified to solve the problem, according to Dr. Yimer. The Ministry of Agriculture is working on this and they have started registration to separate dogs with an owner and those without. They are also working on availing a vaccine.

“If anyone sees a dog that seems unhealthy, they should inform the authorities,” Dr. Yimer urges.. EBR

11th Year • Nov 2022 • No. 112

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