Interview: Keren Nazareth reveals HSI India's tech-driven approach to animal welfare
In the field of animal welfare, technology is revolutionizing the way organizations approach and address the challenges they face. One such organization leading the charge is Humane Society International (HSI), a world-renowned animal protection organization that has been dedicated to animal advocacy for more than 25 years.
In this exclusive interview with Keren Nazareth, Street Dog Program Director at Humane Society International (HSI)/India, we learn about the importance of a data-driven approach in animal welfare efforts. Keren emphasizes the need for accurate population estimation and clear goals in sterilization programs to effectively manage stray dog populations.
She talks about the challenges HSI faces when implementing technology-based solutions, such as the lack of accurate dog tracking, and developing a mobile app to address this issue. Additionally, she explores the impact of smartphone technology on animal welfare initiatives, including geotagging and geofencing.
Through its innovative, technology-driven approach, HSI is transforming the landscape of animal welfare, advancing the human-animal bond and confronting cruelty to animals in all its forms.
Excerpts from the interview
Q: Can you talk about importance of a data-driven approach to animal welfare efforts in India?
A: When it comes to helping animals, the use of data really matters. Before starting dog sterilization programs in a city, we need to know how many dogs there are. According to the World Health Organization and many researchers that about 70% of dogs need to be sterilized to control their population. But many programs don't do surveys to find out the actual number of dogs. At Humane Society International India, we conducted a survey using maps to count dogs in specific areas of the city. We calculate how many dogs there are for every hundred people. This helps us plan how many dogs to sterilize each year.
For example, in Lucknow, we find that there are around 70,000 dogs. By using data, we can set clear goals and track our progress in helping animals, we can calculate how many dogs need to be sterilized each year to reach the goal of 70% sterilization over a period of time.
Q: Can you talk about any challenges HSI has faced in implementing technology-based solutions for animal welfare in India?
A: One problem we ran into was that we couldn't accurately track dogs during neuter programs. When dog catchers picked up the dogs, they often forgot to record the precise locations from which they were taken. Consequently, when dogs were released, they were often not returned to their original locations, leading to conflicts with other dogs. To solve this, we created a special application at HSI India.
With the app, we have the ability to record crucial details about each dog, like their pickup and drop-off locations, using location tags. This ensures that we can return the dogs to the exact locations where they were initially found, as shown on a map. By doing so, we prevent them from being placed in unfamiliar areas and minimize conflicts.
We encountered difficulties in identifying dogs that have undergone sterilization under our program. To address this, we developed a database containing images and specific surgical techniques used by our team. This allows us to verify and confirm if a dog has been sterilized by our organization or another. Thanks to technology, our sterilization programs have become significantly more efficient and precise.
Q: How is smartphone technology affecting animal welfare initiatives beyond dog population management?
A: Smartphone technology, particularly geotagging and geofencing, has had a significant impact on animal welfare initiatives. By using geotagging, we have the ability to record the precise location of dogs during pickup and drop-off, ensuring their return to their original territories. Geofencing helps us define the boundaries within which our sterilization programs operate. This system ensures that our teams operate within designated areas, actively avoiding the collection of dogs outside these limits, which may not be recognized by local authorities. Through the use of smartphone technology, we are able to accurately track and manage the movement of dogs, ensuring their well-being and reducing conflicts with other dogs.
Q: How HSI India app improved the efficiency of sterilization programs?
A: The HSI India app has significantly improved the efficiency of sterilization programs. Provides real-time data and access to important information about
Q: How do we measure the progress of animal birth control (ABC) projects?
A: Most ABC projects lack knowledge of their own progress, but data-driven surveys are critical to tracking and evaluating their effectiveness. HSI/India conducts baseline surveys and follows up with monitoring surveys every six months. This approach helps measure progress, identify areas that require more attention, and determine whether certain areas have achieved high coverage. For example, according to the October 2022 survey data, Lucknow achieved 57% coverage, while Dehradun surpassed it with coverage above 74%.
Q: How daily data collection help to understand rhythm of a project?
A: Daily data collection is essential to understanding the speed at which a project is moving towards its goals. By getting data on a daily basis, organizations can monitor project performance against predetermined goals. For example, if we set an annual goal of 20,000, project managers calculate daily estimates based on available resources. This approach allows them to assess whether the project is on track or requires adjustments. HSI/India provides access to daily data through its apps, making it easy to monitor and evaluate in real time.
Q: Could you explain data collection process and its importance?
A: To be honest, data collection is a detailed process that plays a crucial role in animal birth control programs. Our organization will soon release an application that will be open source and freely accessible to any organization interested in using it. We believe technology can help make our processes and systems safer for animals. Data allows us to earn the trust of communities and demonstrate our responsibility. Without data, it is a challenge for organizations to gain the trust of the public and ensure the welfare of the animals involved.
Q: How do you address growing conflicts between humans and dogs?
A: Conflicts between humans and dogs tend to be more frequent in urbanizing cities. As cities change and expand, the territories of stray dogs are affected, leading to conflict between them. To address this, community involvement is vital. It is essential to respond promptly to public complaints and to actively manage and resolve them.
Educating communities about dog behaviour, vaccinations, sterilization, and responsible pet ownership can greatly reduce conflict. Fostering tolerance and facilitating discussions among community members about shared spaces and dog-related concerns are also effective strategies.
Q: Do you have plans to expand your project to other parts of the country?
A: Currently our organization is based in Lucknow and operates in various areas within Uttar Pradesh. We are considering expanding our project to other regions. However, animal birth control programs require extensive resources and careful planning. While we may not be able to establish ABC programs everywhere, we are developing training and capacity-building programs to support organizations interested in implementing effective ABC initiatives.
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