Who let the dogs out?

There is only one solution to dealing with the problem of India’s stray dog populations, dog bites and rabies: Implementation of WHO guidelines with immediate effect

By Meghna Uniyal
Published: Tuesday 04 June 2019
A couple of stray dogs in Kozhikode, Kerala. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
A couple of stray dogs in Kozhikode, Kerala. Photo: Wikimedia Commons A couple of stray dogs in Kozhikode, Kerala. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In recent years, media reports have shown a disturbing rise in children being mauled to death by dogs on the streets of India. Thousands of Indians lose their lives on the streets every day. However, deaths caused by dogs are not as inadvertent as they seem. So why are there so many dogs on the streets and why are they attacking children?

Public safety is the responsibility of local governments, that are mandated to keep the streets free of straying animals. Strangely, the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) has been allowed to take over this space and it is using tax payers’ money to ensure that homeless dogs are necessarily born, maintained and released outside people’s homes and in public places. So now, India’s solution to the problem of stray dogs on the streets is — “stray” dogs on the streets!

The AWBI exists to enforce the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA), 1962 — prevent the suffering of domestic animals and fund shelters. Instead, it has illegally authored one of the most dangerous policies that we are having to endure.

Far from protecting homeless dogs, it has created a new entity (not found in the PCAA) called “street dogs”, that supposedly “belong” on the streets and eat garbage. The AWBI is unaware that dogs may be abandoned, lost or allowed to stray and that using dogs for garbage control in the 21st century defies all logic and good sense.

It has also invented an occupation called “dog feeder” who has an “inalienable right” to feed these dogs on the streets, thereby legalising public nuisance as well. After ensuring that packs of homeless dogs exist in every public space, the AWBI has declared that not knowing a dog may be in pain or might be “perceiving” a threat — are “provocations” by citizens, for which they are themselves responsible.

Attempting to explain keeping dogs homeless, the AWBI and non-profits insist that sterilisation reduces aggression in dogs. This is wholly incorrect. Dogs have a natural tendency to chase vehicles and people for predatory, playful and territorial reasons. Primary causes of dog attacks are territoriality and fear; litter defence and sexual aggression are minor reasons. Couple this with being homeless, diseased and starving. It is a recipe for disaster.

Sterilisation does not, in any way, create docile, friendly populations of dogs on the streets. That some of them may be fed, in fact, increases aggression because they now expect food from people and are territorial about where they are fed. Anyone who has ever kept a dog or knows anything about them, knows that even the most well-kept, pampered dog can bite for any number of reasons.

The AWBI and non-profits also claim that homeless dogs are “community dogs” and belong to poor people. Again, this is utterly misleading. When Delhi was killing 50,000 dogs annually, 50,000 poor people did not complain that their dogs had been killed.

A couple in Chandigarh refused to take home the body of their child, mauled to death by dogs, unless someone was held responsible. Not a single “poor” person or “community” has filed a case in any court of India, asking for their dogs to be protected.

While dog vans are stoned when they release dogs in localities, it is only non-profits that are going to court, demanding that homeless dogs remain on the streets. All of this is ostensibly for the welfare of dogs but, in reality, it is blatantly cruel and counter-productive.

People are now taking matters in to their own hands as they have simply run out of options, leading to retaliatory killings of homeless dogs by beatings or poisoning. Therefore, even the suggestion that any of this is somehow protecting dogs owned by poor people, is laughable and grotesque at the same time.

Last, but not the least, the AWBI states that “street dogs” are “Indian/desi/pariah” dogs. Pariah, meaning outcast, is a casteist slur, used for “lower castes” in India. Because stray dogs were also seen as outcasts, they came to be referred to as pariahs. It is not a breed of dog.

Also, indigenous Indian breeds (Rajapalayam, Mudhol Hound) are not found roaming the streets of India. If the “animal welfare” community in India doesn’t know yet that dogs are domestic, companion animals and that there is no such thing as “street dogs”, its members need to take up other hobbies to entertain themselves.

In light of the above, frequent dog attacks on people, especially the poor, should come as no surprise. The question is no more how the AWBI and non-profits are so clueless about dog ecology, behaviour and animal welfare in general. The question now is far graver — why are they being allowed to get away with these dangerous, nonsensical and illegal activities?

Animal welfare is hard work. It means dealing with thousands of unwanted, homeless dogs that need to be rehomed or sheltered. It also entails dealing with the heart-breaking issue of euthanasia. These activities, done by non-profits all over the world, DO NOT involve forcibly keeping homeless dogs homeless and throwing some food at them.

Doing so is now costing human lives and non-profits and individuals cannot carry out these activities in public, regardless of illegal “circulars” and “policies” dreamed up and published by the AWBI.

The government must disband the AWBI and create a new body capable of appropriately discharging its duties. We need not reinvent the wheel as there is only one solution to dealing with the problem of stray dog populations, dog bites and rabies — implementation of World Health Organization guidelines with immediate effect: enforce pet control laws, neuter and vaccinate pets, eliminate straying dogs (impound, rehome, shelter, return to owners).

And dog lovers need to speak up for homeless dogs. They may not be their dogs, but they’re certainly not “street dogs” that belong there. Time to put an end to this cruel joke on people and dogs of this country.

Meghna Uniyal is director and co-founder, Humane Foundation for People and Animals

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