Celebrating and learning from ‘Red Collar’ – a campaign to end the inhumane culling of dogs in the name of rabies control

When World Animal Protection’s ‘Red Collar’ campaign ended in September 2016, the staff involved in implementing the campaign decided to commit themselves to an independent evaluation which would explore their achievements but also expose challenges and failures. ‘Red collar’ aimed to end the inhumane culling of dogs for rabies control, using advocacy and pilot projects to generate momentum for governments to adopt humane control founded in mass dog vaccination. The aim of this exercise was simple; to learn from both successes and mistakes and make future campaigns ever more impactful for animals. The results were both heartening, humane rabies control was taking over from culling in many target areas, but also highlighted where campaigns should be strengthen. 

This month, a commentary reporting the results of the evaluation has been published in a special issue of Animals, focusing on Canine Rabies Surveillance, Control and Elimination

Myself and my colleague, Dr Lou Tasker, took on this evaluation. We interviewed over 50 people relating to this campaign – including campaign staff, other nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), government officials, public health experts and representatives of intergovernmental organisations. Although we had constraints relating to input time, we maximised learning opportunities – by conducting interviews over Skype and email. However, I was lucky enough to visit the project in Zanzibar, where I met many people with positive stories to tell about how they had turned their backs on the bad old days of shooting dogs to control rabies and were now themselves advocates of effective and humane control through mass dog vaccination. Perhaps most memorable were the dog owners that I met in Zanzibar’s rural areas, with limited income but a passion for their dogs, they were particularly grateful for the vaccination capacity that World Animal Protection had helped the government authorities to develop.

There were a number of important lessons to be learnt. Including the extended time it can take to realise a change in policy through to positively impacting dogs and their human communities on the ground, and the hard graft required to train local teams in implementing vaccination. Plus how quickly inhumane culls can appear or reappear; the need to be prepared to respond fast and strong if you are to turn the tide of a knee-jerk reaction to something profoundly scary such as people dying of rabies.

Lou and I valued the experience of conducting this evaluation – drawing themes and learnings from projects sharing a common goal but spread across many countries and contexts – and being able to share in the satisfaction of how this campaign had made the world just that bit better for dogs and people. We were also impressed with the openness of World Animal Protection staff to our delving and questioning, and their welcoming of us exposing weakness, not becoming defensive but absorbing the lessons learnt and recommendations made. We hope that other NGOs will have the bravery to do the same.