Checking stray dog population : The Tribune India

Checking stray dog population

New Animal Birth Control rules have been notified, but only proper and uniform implementation can make any real difference

Checking stray dog population

Experts feel that it is only after 70 per cent of the street dogs are sterilised that there will be a drop in their population. Tribune photo Sayeed Ahmed

Seema Sachdeva

WITH effect from March 16, a notification issued by the Union Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying seeks to make implementation of the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Rules 2023 stricter. Among the new rules are the use of humane methods to capture stray dogs to be sterilised, mandatory prerequisites for veterinarians and CCTV cameras to be installed where the animals are housed. The rules also ask for residents to be properly briefed about the ABC programme being conducted in their area.

1.6 cr cases of street dog bites (2019-22)

6.2 cr street dogs in India

Animal lovers will heave a sigh of relief, but is it enough to tackle what is becoming an issue of huge public concern — stray dog-bite cases? India recorded a whopping 1.6 crore cases of street/stray dog bites between 2019 and 2022, according to data submitted in Parliament till November 2022. This has also led to an increase in revenge crime and atrocities against dogs, feeders of dogs and caregivers as well as conflicts among urban residents.

“The number of dog-bite cases is proof that the ABC programme has not been properly implemented. It is only after 70 per cent of the street dogs are sterilised that there will be a drop in their population, else it will be a waste of time and effort. If there is proper political will to implement, it will take two to three years to sterilise all street dogs in the country,” says Dr S Chinny Krishna, often referred to as the ‘Grand Old Man of Animal Welfare in India’.

If done properly, the ABC programme, he says, will not only check the street dog population, but also help stop the spread of rabies since after their sterilisation, these dogs are given anti-rabies shots that help to build immunity (99.9 per cent) to the fatal disease.

Dr Krishna was at the forefront of the ABC programme when he started neutering and sterilising stray dogs in 1966 through his foundation The Blue Cross of India. “While the new rules are excellent, the approved organisations should have been permitted to do early age neutering (EAN) well before the age of six months. It leads to a rapid recovery time and gives a larger window for the neutering to be done. It will also check unwanted pregnancies,” he suggests.

Even though the ABC Rules came into effect on December 25, 2001, the country continues to be home to the largest number of street dogs in the world. The latest report of the State of Pet Homelessness Index of India states that there are 6.2 crore street dogs in India. The country also leads in the number of rabies cases with 18,000-20,000 deaths annually as per a report of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Till 2001, thousands of stray dogs were being mass killed every year to check their population but the numbers continued to grow. Similar culling of dogs in other countries had failed to check their population.

In 1990, the ‘Guidelines for Dog Population Management’ issued by the WHO and the World Society for Protection of Animals, now known as World Animal Protection, stated, “All too often, authorities confronted with the problems caused by these dogs have turned to mass destruction in the hope of finding a quick solution, only to discover that the destruction had to continue, year after year with no end in sight.” The age-old method of catch-and-kill has never worked, and never will, points out Dr Krishna.

“The new ABC Rules should make a major difference if adequately implemented. The guidelines for veterinarians will help to prevent the botched-up surgeries and fatalities that occur now. The issue of dog population is not taken seriously and there is lack of accountability, which often leads to corruption. Adequate funds need to be allocated and stricter implementation ensured,” says Hiranmay Karlekar, animal rights activist and author of ‘Savage Humans and Stray Dogs: A Study in Aggression’.

“Sterilisation is important because it eliminates the major cause of aggression in dogs. Dogs become more aggressive during the period when the bitches come in heat. They respond to provocation strongly. Bitches get aggressive when humans try to take away or hurt their puppies. Spaying or neutering will take care of the two main reasons of dog bites,” says Karlekar.

One of the major issues faced in the implementation of the ABC programme is the catching of stray dogs for neutering. The dogs run away when they see human beings trying to catch them. “It is essential that their caregivers and feeders help to catch them and sterilise,” says Karlekar. The sterilised and vaccinated dogs should be released in the same locality they’d been captured from, else new un-sterilised dogs from other areas will come there looking for food and claim it as their own territory, he says, adding that sterilisation will ensure that over a period of time, the population of street dogs in the area goes down.

The civic authorities need to ensure that there is proper waste management and no garbage lying in the open, says Anando Dasgupta, an IT professional and independent dog rescuer. “The number of dogs in an area is directly proportional to the availability of food. Often, one can find a lot of stray dogs scavenging for food in the areas around eateries or where garbage has been dumped. The maximum number of dog fights and dog-bite cases have been noticed in newer settlements and localities or lands that were earlier vacant and where dogs would roam around in search of food,” says Dasgupta.

Giving an example of zero strays in The Netherlands, which has a policy of zero dog breeding, Dasgupta says India still has a long way to go. “It is often argued that feeding places should be away from residential areas. But feeding cannot be done away from their areas since dogs are territorial in nature. Feeding them in other dogs’ territory could lead to aggressive behaviour and fights among them,” adds Dasgupta. “It is essential to control dog breeding to check the formation of packs. Many a time, in the fights among packs, humans can become accidental victims.”

With rising dog-bite cases, it is often the animal lovers who have to bear the brunt. Manali-based Harroop Kaur faces lots of issues when she tries to take stray dogs in her area for sterilisation. Taking care of more than 30 stray dogs living in her house is not easy, especially with little support by the veterinary staff. She often also has to face irate neighbours who say that she has created a ‘nuisance’ in the area by feeding so many dogs. “But how can I let the dogs be mistreated? Earlier, there was no problem of stray dog population in Manali. Lots of tourists bring along their pet dogs and let them roam around. These pets mix with the local dogs and impregnate the bitches, which has led to an increase in the dog population in the city.”

The stray dog menace is acute in Punjab, and the implementation of the ABC programme has been sluggish. In Ludhiana, a total of 19,043 dog-bite cases were reported in 2022 with an average of 40 new cases being reported every day in the district. Patiala saw 13,023 cases of dog bites last year with an average of 1,085 cases every month. Mohali district witnessed 11,077 cases of dog bite last year with around 30 cases a day. There has been no official survey about the stray dog population since 2017 in Amritsar city but as per MC officials, there could be around 50,000 stray dogs within the jurisdiction of MC limits. A total of 9,250 dogs have been sterilised in the past five years.

Dr Raj Kamal, Assistant Health Officer, MC, and also a member of the Animal Birth Control Monitoring Committee, Jalandhar, says it has been decided that dog catching and sterilisation plans shall be revamped. “There is a proposal for at least 25 dog sterilisations per day and inclusion of more dog kennels in the district as well.”

The tenders for the dog sterilisation programme of Patiala’s Municipal Corporation lapsed in January last year. Since then, it has been awaiting permission from the AWBI to carry out the project. According to a medical officer at the community health centre, Tripuri, the centre receives five to seven dog-bite cases every day. “At times, people who get treated for dog bites return to the centres for the same after being bitten again,” he says.

Similar has been the state of affairs in Haryana. Indicating the gravity of the stray dog menace in the state, the data provided by the Health Department reveals that 11 lakh dog-bite cases were reported in the last 10 years.

With new rules in place, India aims to take forward its new National Action Plan for dog-mediated Rabies Elimination to meet the WHO’s target of zero rabies by 2030. “Only through the ABC programme can we achieve this target and ensure that the man-dog conflict is resolved. A dog has been man’s friend forever. It is high time we return the compliment and become its best friend,” says Dr Krishna.

From mass killing to legislation on cruelty to animals

  • For more than 150 years in India, the mass killing of street dogs through electrocution, shooting and poisoning were seen as the only solution to address the issue of over-population of street dogs and deaths due to rabies.
  • The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act was passed in 1960. The Animal Welfare Board of India was established in 1962 under Section 4 of the Act for the purpose of protecting animals from being subjected to unnecessary pain or suffering.
  • The ABC Rules of 2001 brought the focus on the planning and management of dog control programme to check their population. As per the rules, ears of sterilised dogs are to be either clipped and/or tattooed for being identified as sterilised or immunised.
  • The ABC Rules 2023 are an improvement in that they bring in more accountability. The new rules provide for the constitution of monitoring committees for the effective implementation of ABC programmes to control the population of street animals, for eradication of rabies and for reducing the man-animal conflict.

— With inputs from Ravneet Singh (Patiala), Manav Mander and Harshraj Singh (Ludhiana), Charanjit Singh Teja (Amritsar) & Aparna Banerji (Jalandhar) 

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