Bengaluru civic body's shoddy manner of sterilisation and vaccination of street dogs is no method to bring down rabies risk

In India, putting leftover food out on the pavement for street dogs to feed on is common practice. But despite such feeding habits, a large section of the population considers free-ranging street dogs to be a nuisance. And instances of such dogs attacking pedestrians, especially children, with the risk of rabies only adding to sentiments of pain and trauma heighten the feeling of dislike.

About two decades ago, dogs were routinely culled in Bangalore, one of the means employed was electrocution. In 2000, however, one such facility where thousands of dogs were electrocuted was taken over by Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) and renovated to include equipments for sterilisation surgeries under an Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme set-up by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the municipal corporation which is responsible for the city’s civic and infrastructural resources.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

As part of the programme, animal welfare organisations, among other NGOs and private players, are contracted by the BBMP by way of e-procurement to conduct sterilisation surgeries. And since such sterilisation processes are followed by rabies vaccinations, the risks associated with dog bites could also be reduced along the path to sterilisations. And this is a big plus considering that India accounts for 36 percent of worldwide deaths due to rabies with 18,000-20,000 deaths every year, according to a report by the World Health Organisation, thereby making rabies endemic to the region.

“Citizens are one of the primary stakeholders of an ABC programme,” says Mili Gandhi, a member of the Citizens for Animal Birth Control (CABC) group that has been petitioning a safe and procedure-oriented ABC programme for Bangalore city’s dogs. “The whole idea of having an ABC programme was from the perspective of reducing the incidents of rabies. If you reduce the dog population and you vaccinate the population you are sterilising, the incidence of rabies will come down. So, from the human angle, this was the objective,” says Gandhi, adding “from the humane angle, the objective was to ensure that dog populations are not controlled in a cruel manner.”

But despite such science-based effectiveness, the programme has been plagued by several issues in Bangalore.

One of the major issues in the city’s ABC programme is the lack of an oversight mechanism.

“We have received a number of complaints about malfunctions and the mismanagement of the programme at the hands of the BBMP,” says SK Mittal, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). “On 10 August, we had a detailed discussion with the chief minister, BBMP commissioner, the animal husbandry secretary and a few other persons. We have communicated that quality-control over ABC surgeries is one of the key issues.”

The issue concerning the quality of the ABC surgeries comes into plain sight on scrutinising the method employed in disbursal of payments. BBMP pays its contractors based on the organs which are harvested after ABC surgeries thereby making the programme financially dependent on the tally of organs, not factoring in the quality of the surgeries which are performed.

“The BBMP sets quantity-based targets for each contractor," says Sandhya Madappa, secretary and trustee, Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) which ran the ABC programme in the city as one of BBMP’s contractors. She adds that the ABC programme cannot be run based on a sole fixation with numbers like in factories and other production houses. “And then there’s the monitoring committee which is defunct,” she says. Therefore, even in cases of botched surgeries, rather than getting penalised for conducting such a surgery, the contractor could reasonably expect to get paid based on the harvested organs.

“Chasing numbers is correct,” Mili says. “We want to sterilise more dogs but not at the cost of quality. So when the BBMP representatives or inspectors come to the ABC centres to check the organs, instead of penalising solely for conducting a lesser number of surgeries, they also need to penalise for badly conducted ones.”

“About a year ago, probably in a hurry to increase the scale of the city’s ABC programme, the BBM added some contractors,” Mili says. “Some of them are inexperienced, private individuals, some are recent graduates and there are some retired vets too… so the BBMP clearly missed the standard operating procedures which are laid out by the AWBI for selection of the contractors like surgical skills, number of surgeries performed, et cetera.”

And this lack of emphasis on the quality of ABC surgeries, coupled with initial contractor selection processes not being linked to merit alone, has led to various instances where street dogs have been found with their entrails out due to reasons like low-quality suturing techniques and some dogs have even died post-surgery.

And while rare cases of self-mutilation do occur once the dogs are let back out into the streets, Mili notes that the primary reasons for the recent surgical failures are to be attributed to what happened at the ABC centre. “The lapses that have occurred could have been fixed at that point,” she says, noting that the BBMP ought to get its act together on the monitoring front and view the ABC programme more scientifically and strategically.

The other issue concerns complaint calls.

“ABC contractors spend 50 percent of their time attending to citizen complaints relating to the dogs in their local area,” said Harini Raghavan, another member of the CABC group. The time spent on engaging in such complaint calls and the ensuing dog-relocation activities — some of which might be based on a fear of dogs rather than actual human-dog conflict situations like dog bites — is time taken away from the operating table or a distraction from core operating activities. Harini calls for an evidence-based filtration mechanism while entertaining such complaints.

She went on to tie the issue with the mindset of the BBMP saying “the entire ABC programme has been set up under BBMP’s animal husbandry division which ultimately reports to the health division and may be rightly so because you don’t want anyone dying of rabies. But the dog is an important stakeholder because you are operating on the dog.”

The third issue is the fact that Karnataka does not have a functioning State Animal Welfare Board which can act as a conduit for communicating AWBI guidelines on animal welfare matters, including ABC programmes. “We have called for a reconstitution of the Board with efficient people,” Mittal says.

On a concluding note, Priya Chetty Rajagopal, another member of the CABC notes that an inherent suspicion of NGOs and other animal-loving citizens have led to a bias in the BBMP’s approach and action and therefore the civic body’s grasp on this human and animal health issue is limited at best and sketchy at its worst. “And all of this adds up to a surly, inefficient and unsympathetic monitoring structure,” Priya says.


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Updated Date: Aug 20, 2018 16:12:23 IST