Who said, ‘dog bites man’ is no news? It was world news last week when Moldovan President Maia Sandu’s pup bit Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen’s hand at a tripartite summit with Slovenia, called to discuss Moldova’s entry into the European Union. Luckily, the elderly Austrian was no Hitler, Stalin or Dollfuss who, if treated so like a dog, would have blocked Moldova’s EU entry. He was forgiving, and gifted the excitable pup a toy.
Diplomacy is going to the dogs. Vladimir Putin boasted to visiting George W. Bush that his Labrador retriever Konni was “bigger, stronger and faster” than Bush’s Scottish terrier. He even set Konni upon Angela Merkel, who hated dogs. Joe Biden’s and Boris Johnson’s dogs have mounted on their guards and guests, though bites of the kind that van der Bellen suffered at Chisinau haven’t been reported from Downing Street or the Kremlin.
Unless on a tight leash, dogs can mar political ties. Among the many grouses that Deve Gowda had against Congress president Sitaram Kesri, which led to the fall of the Gowda regime, was that Kesri used to let his Pomeranian roam free in the room even when the two were talking matters of state. More recently, Himanta Biswa Sarma was peeved that Rahul Gandhi was paying more attention to feeding his dog Pidi when he called on the latter, than to his litany of grievances from Assam. Sarma walked out without even a canine whine, and smelled his way into the BJP. Since then it has been dog days for the Congress in the northeast.
India’s current concern is not about such topdogs, but about dogs who bite people like us, the underdogs. Open the city pages of your morning paper, and you will see stories aplenty about street dogs biting morning strollers, neighbour’s terrier biting kid in a lift, a corporate honcho dying of head injury sustained while fleeing street dogs, and more. Every bite takes a few bytes on the news television, too, where you may even hear the cries of the bitten, and the barks of dog lovers who resist efforts to end the street dog menace.
‘Dog bites man’ is national news. A town council in Kerala, fed up with ill-fed dogs biting morning strollers and shocked by a stray dog mauling an autistic child to death, moved the court seeking to strike down Maneka Gandhi’s animal birth control (ABC) rules, and seeking powers to kill, cull or curb street dogs. The Punjab and Haryana High court ordered the state to pay Rs10,000 for every dog tooth that had entered the flesh of a man, and Rs20,000 for every 0.2 cm of torn flesh.
Earlier, municipalities were allowed to mercy-kill dogs so that town roads and parks could be kept safe. In 2001 Maneka, then a junior minister in the A.B. Vajpayee government, notified the ABC rules which disallowed dog-catching and mercy-killing, both of which had been allowed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals act. Under the rules, amended minorly this year, street dogs who bite can at the most be caught and vaccinated, but have to be set back into streets.
Six crore dogs—the “mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of low degree,” as Oliver Goldsmith put it in An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog—are currently stalking our streets, giving wounds “both sore and sad” to two crore Indians every year. Dog-bite rabies is killing more Indians than is malaria, yet animal lovers wouldn’t hear of even a mad mongrel being killed.
The irony, says the kill-the-mad-dog lobby, is: it is lawful to kill a man-eating tiger in rare cases, but you can land in jail if you kill a mad dog.