The tragic loss of a family dog in Sierra Leone

04 April 2018

Daily life is harsh for both people and dogs in Freetown, Sierra Leone, a community devastated by an eleven-year civil war and an Ebola epidemic that left many people and dogs displaced

While working on our vaccination project in Sierra Leone, we spoke to community members to learn more about the worrisome conflict beween locals and dogs.

This conflict originates from an eleven-year civil war that forced the community out of their homes to seek refuge from the violence, leaving many dogs behind.

A street in one of the community wards of Freetown.

Just as the country started to get back on its feet, the 2014 Ebola epidemic hit. And again, dogs were the forgotten victims. 

Despite such hardship, the people of Freetown were very welcoming and openly shared their stories with us. 

We spoke to a man who understands the conflict well and has been deepy affected by it.

The story of "Big Man"

42-year-old Unisa Bangura, is a member of the Juba community, a ward in western Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city.

Unisa lives with his wife and four young children in an impoverished neighborhood where daily life is harsh for both people and dogs. 

Unisa Bangura speaking to us outside his home in Freetown.

Unisa told us about his favorite dog, Big Man, a large, kind and protective brown and white dog who used to look after his children and stay around his younger daughter.

"They grew up together," said Unisa. 

He went on to describe how Big Man had a very close relationship with all of Unisa's children, forming a special bond with his youngest daughter and watching the house whenever Unisa was not there or at night.

A tragic day

One afternoon while Unisa was away from home, Big Man bit a man after the man walked past him and tried to reach out to him.

From fear of contracting rabies, the man retaliated by killing Big Man.

This gut-reaction of killing dogs is not uncommon in Freetown, with so many roaming free on the streets, local people have become wary.

When this man was bitten by Big Man, his instinct was to retaliate.

Our partner group, Sierra Leone Animal Welfare Society (SLAWS) began a campaign of rabies vaccinations in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The vaccination drive aims to immunize 70 percent of the dog population against rabies, which is proven to protect the community.

Sadly, Big Man had indeed been vaccinated against the disease but had never been marked with a collar as such.

“Yes, I vaccinated him. I had a man who used to come and take care of all of my dogs," recalls Unisa.

A deeper problem

There are approximately 100,000 stray dogs in Freetown, but only 4 veterinarians in the whole of Sierra Leone.

Unisa understood the fear that the man who killed Big Man felt, because the problem is shockingly prevalent in the everyday lives of Freetown's citizens.

The bond he had with Big Man was cruelly broken, but despite the pain he had suffered in losing him, he did not blame the man who killed him.

A community dog in poor condition seeks shade under a car.

When asked about how he felt after the incident happened, Unisa replied "I was not happy. When Big Man died I was not happy because he was my security. I felt so bad but there was nothing I could do, so I left it alone."

"Even my daughter, the older one, she wanted to fight the man but I stopped her, I said no. Let him go."

How we're helping

Unfortunately, what happened to Big Man occurs often in African regions where stray dogs live amongst people.

The threat of rabies is far more prominent in these communities, which causes tension for locals who must live side by side with these animals. 

A family from the Dwozard community in Sierra Leone pictured with their newly vaccinated dog.

We're working with local partners and the government to educate and raise awareness about rabies vaccinations amongst the communities in Freetown. 

We aim to show people that dogs don’t need to be needlessly killed, the way Big Man was.

Pictured in top photo is a local dog who received a rabies vaccination in July of 2017

The threat of rabies is far more prominent in these communities, which causes tension for locals who must live side by side with these animals.
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