DHAKA - Scores of dog lovers shouting "Don't kill, sterilize" marched through Dhaka on Saturday to protest Bangladesh's brutal canine culling, which involves breaking the animals' necks.
Carrying banners with slogans, the protesters linked hands in front of the Dhaka City Corporation, the main government agency responsible for culling thousands of dogs every year.
Organizers, who arranged the protest using media such as Facebook and Twitter, said they believed it was the first time a public protest against the killing had been held in Bangladesh.
"We've come here with a message: please stop this brutal practice of dog culling," said Rubaiya Ahmad, head of Obhoyaronnyo (Sanctuary), one of the organisers of the event.
"Nowhere in the world are dogs treated so badly as in Bangladesh," she said.
The Dhaka City Corporation kills up to 20,000 stray dogs a year, according to city figures, amid concerns that rabies has become a major killer in the country. Thousands more are killed in rural areas.
According to the latest government data, at least 2,000 people died of rabies in Bangladesh in 2009, the highest per capita rate in the world.
Organizers said they supported the anti-rabies drive but demanded an end to the brutal methods used to kill dogs, including breaking their necks with tongs and beating them to death.
In the face of growing concern, officials last year admitted for the first time that existing methods were "cruel" and said they were seeking more humane ways to contain the canine population.
But protesters said progress was too slow.
"The authorities should sterilize dogs or vaccinate them against rabies.
There are lots of compassionate ways to contain the dog population," said Obhoyaronnyo's Ahmad.
"I have seen how they put down these lovely animals," added Ash Bhattacharjee, 17, another demonstrator.
"They catch dogs from roadsides and use iron tongs to break their necks and the helpless animals are dead in minutes," she told AFP.
Ahmad said the way dogs were killed gave "a very negative image of Bangladeshi society."
"If you're cruel to animals, you're also cruel to humans," she said, adding that "although some Muslims think dogs are unclean, the religion does not prescribe brutal treatment of dogs."
Some 90 percent of Bangladesh's 146 million population are Muslim. But some city dwellers keep dogs as pets and there are several dog lovers' clubs in the capital. Rural residents frequently use dogs as guard animals.
Image: Nir Nussbaum / via Flickr