GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A battle is on to keep rabies at bay within Penang, Kedah and Perlis.
To date, 919 dogs have been culled in the three states under measures to contain and eradicate the disease.
The exercise is now in full swing with some 200 personnel from the Veterinary Services Department throughout the country deployed to the three rabies-hit states.
State Veterinary Services Department director Dr Siti Salmiah Tahir said the strays were caught using tranquillisers and put to sleep by injection on site.
"The dogs culled on the island will be incinerated while those on the mainland will be buried," she told a press conference at her office in Bukit Tengah on Friday (Sept 18).
The culling, announced on Thursday by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, goes on even as animal rights groups mount fresh protests.
Lim said the Penang government was firm on its decision to put stray dogs to sleep to prevent a rabies endemic here.
"This is not my decision but the decision of the state Health Services director and state Veterinary Services director who are experts on the issue," Lim told reporters here.
"Are the animal activists experts on dealing with the situation or merely looking at the rights of the animals?
"What about the rights of the people whose safety and health is of paramount importance to the state?" he asked.
Lim added that swift action was needed because rabies, which was first detected in Perlis and Kedah, had found its way to Penang in such a short period of time.
State Health Committee chairman Dr Afif Bahardin said Penangites could get their dogs vaccinated for RM35 (S$11.50) at the state Veterinary Services Department in Bukit Tengah.
"What is most important now, is not to interfere with the process and not to create infection risks.
"If you have dog shelters, avoid bringing new dogs into your shelter unless you are sure they have been vaccinated," he said.
On the estimated 25,000 stray dogs in the state, Dr Afif said the figure was derived from public complaints of stray dog packs in their areas.
"It has to be admitted that we had failed to control the growth of stray dogs in recent years.
"The government is not being cruel or inhumane, but culling is the most effective method to curb the spread," he added.
Under the Animals Act 1953, all dog owners must not allow their dogs to roam freely after the chief minister declares the state a rabies-infected area.
"Any dog found within a rabies-infected area which is not under effective control may be destroyed," states Section 39(5).
Any person who fails to keep his dogs secured without reasonable excuse, faces a fine of RM250."
Lim had also said at his press conference that while the authorities would destroy stray dogs, they would not enter homes to catch dogs.
He also issued an Anti-Rabies Vaccination order on Thursday, and anyone who fails to vaccinate his dogs within a period specified by the Veterinary Services Department may be fined RM250, and the dogs put to sleep.
In a statement, the Penang Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals PCA said it would not be taking in any strays until Penang was declared rabies-free.