Rabies is just one reason why stray dogs are a snarling menace in India

Last week, six-year-old Ramya was mauled badly by a pack of stray dogs in a suburb in Bengaluru. She was badly injured and is recovering in a hospital.

This was a few days after the TCS World 10K marathon in the city that was marred when the lead Ethiopian runner, Mulle Wasihun was bitten by a stray dog.

There have been several such incidents in the city, where stray dogs have attacked children and adults, morning walkers, two-wheeler riders and pedestrians. I was bitten by a stray dog when I was walking in an unfamiliar and lonely lane. While one dog bit me on my calf, there was a pack of growling dogs ahead of me. That I escaped with minor injuries, is immaterial, but I still had to undergo a course of rabies shots.

The Bangalore Mirror reported last year that there were more than five lakh stray dogs in Bengaluru, and an average of 15,000 dog bites were reported every year.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

However, Sanober Bharucha, president of Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), a public charitable trust, told Firstpost, “The latest dog census taken up by the Animal Husbandry Department of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), was in 2007, with approximately 1.80 lakh dogs. Since then, Bengaluru has doubled in size from about 400 sq km to nearly 800 sq km today. There is no definitive study to know the exact number of stray dogs in the city today.”

According to her, the unchecked proliferation of strays are also due to pets and mixed breed dogs being abandoned by owners. “Many of these abandoned dogs are in CUPA centres. All dogs, whether left on the streets or adopted, need to be sterilised and vaccinated against rabies to keep a control on their numbers and behaviour patterns,” adds Bharucha.

The BBMP implements the animal birth control programme for stray dogs via the Animal Birth Control (dogs) Rules 2001 by catching the stray dogs. The dogs are sterilised, de-wormed and vaccinated against rabies, and released back in the same locality. However, the BBMP feels that sterilisation and the anti-rabies vaccine only helps in controlling the dogs’ sexual, maternal and rabies aggression, but not territorial, food and fear aggression.

Bharucha says, “The point of the animal birth control programme is that the dogs are sterilised and vaccinated, creating a rabies-free ring around their area. Yes, being territorial, they do not allow other dogs to enter their area. They do not multiply, hence the population remains well-controlled over a long period of time. If, what we name as 'guardians' of these dogs take the trouble to feed them once or twice a day, in areas that are not near their own or near someone's house, then they will not be territorial and act aggressive. Awareness to residents and children to treat these animals with care and not throw stones or sticks at them will also not give them any reason to become aggressive.”

Animal rights activist, advocate and former trustee of CUPA, Brindha Nandakumar adds, “Residents and animal lovers should support and assist the government in monitoring the dog control programme for it to be more effective.”

Nandakumar, who has fought street dog cases in the high court and represented CUPA in the Supreme Court and got a stay against the indiscriminate killing of strays, points to the piles of garbage dumps and open meat stalls and eateries in the city, which bring dogs in numbers.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

Bharucha adds, “These incidents would be highly preventable if we had an efficient system of garbage segregation and garbage disposal. Dogs, rodents, cats, pigs, cattle and even wild animals, including elephants, get attracted to massive heaps of unsorted garbage lying around, and is a cause of danger to humans, no doubt, but also to animals, flora and fauna.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that roughly 36 percent of the world’s rabies deaths occur in India each year, most of those when children come into contact with infected dogs. The WHO estimates the dog population to be around 25 million in India.

So rampant is the dog menace in the country, that the Supreme Court is taking cognizance of the issue, and has constituted a fact-finding committee to be headed by a former Kerala High Court judge to conduct a sample survey of the dog menace in Kerala. The committee has been given three months to file a report, after which, based on the findings of the report, the SC will pass an order applicable to all states and union territories on handling the stray dogs menace.

The Supreme Court has been hearing a bunch of petitions filed by the Animal Welfare Board and dog lovers against the decisions of some high courts, including Bombay, Kerala and Karnataka. Some eight years ago, the Bombay High Court permitted the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to kill ‘rabid and nuisance causing’ stray dogs. The BMC then promised to end the stray dog menace in two years. The plan was to put to sleep violent dogs, through humane euthanasia methods.

Last month, the SC directed the states and local bodies to take steps to sterilise and vaccinate nuisance-causing stray dogs, under the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The SC also asked the Animal Welfare Board to come out with a module by July this year and asked states and union territories to give statistics of how many deaths had been caused due to rabies and the number of dogs sterilised by the civic bodies.

As the Supreme Court observed, “There can be no trace of doubt that there has to be compassion for dogs and they should not be killed in an indiscriminate manner, but indubitably the lives of the human beings are to be saved, and one should not suffer due to dog bite because of administrative lapse.”

Whether Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad and cities in Kerala, there have been regular reports of stray dogs mauling children and attacking adults too.

WHO aims to eliminate rabies in Asia by 2020, but this won’t be possible as long as India remains on the danger list. According to WHO, India would need to vaccinate 70 percent of the total dog population in a very short span and maintain immune coverage through control of dog movement.

How this will be done is anybody’s guess, especially as this seems to be a herculean task. Millions of dogs need to be rounded up and vaccinated across the length and breadth of the country. This definitely requires a collective will — of the administration’s, the NGOs and the community.

Is this doable, especially as the Animal Welfare Board has stopped some NGOs from carrying on the sterilisation program?

Says Bharucha, “Several NGOs, approximately five to six have been working on the ABC programme in Bengaluru and it was showing good results. The method of CNVR — Catch-Neuter-Spay-Release — was being used by some organisations which was stopped by the Animal Welfare Board of India recently. Some NGOs do not have kennel space to house these animals to be sterilised. Hence, the programme has slowed down at present, but CUPA is continuing since kennels are available.”

Bharucha feels what would really work to reduce the number of stray dogs in Bengaluru and the rest of India, would be a multi-pronged approach, which includes segregation and effective disposal of garbage, adoption of stray/mixed breed dogs with responsible ownership, mass sterilisation of stray dogs as well as pet dogs, severe punishments to people who litter or do not segregate waste, make the laws in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 more stringent in case of cruelty to animals whether street or pet dogs.

Given that we did manage to eradicate polio from the country, wiping out rabies and tackling the stray dog menace will hopefully not be a distant dream. In the process, if we manage to repair the bonding with man’s best friend, so be it.

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Updated Date: May 25, 2016 11:26:30 IST

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