It was a concordant decision at the all-party meet convened by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. Culling stray dogs was a necessity, felt politicians cutting across party lines. More than a lakh people were bitten by dogs in Kerala in the past one year. On the warpath, the government instructed the local bodies and the panchayats to step up action to kill troublesome stray dogs. Now, dogs lovers are up in arms. Add to that, the issue being debated ardently on social networking sites like Facebook by dog lovers and people who are concerned about the menace. Several online petitions have been sent to the chief minister, urging him to reconsider the decision to kill stray dogs.
“There is a pointless hullabaloo on the issue,” said Maneka Gandhi, Union minister for women and child development, to THE WEEK. “I don't think any stray dog is being killed at the moment in Kerala. The chief minister has told me that money has been released for sterilisation. The Centre is ready to provide all help. Dog bites will not come down by killing dogs. Kerala has been killing stray dogs for more than 60 years. What have we achieved?”
Maneka said the Kerala government should seek the help of NGOs in all 14 districts of the state. These NGOs will sterilise the dogs in a clinic provided by the state government with all the necessary facilities. “There are two and a half lakh stray dogs in Kerala. So, roughly, say 18,000 per district. If an NGO sterilises 20 dogs a day, we can get rid of all stray dog-related problems in two years,” said Maneka.
M.K. Muneer, minister of social welfare and panchayat, Kerala, said, “We will employ the services of NGOs in every district; vaccinate stray dogs and sterilise them. Special training courses for dog catchers are being conducted in every district. Killing of all stray dogs will not serve any purpose. We will not do it. It is only the extremely dangerous and rabid dogs that are killed. This after we get the required permission from the concerned veterinary doctor.” Apparently, each sterilisation centre requires at least two veterinary doctors, a few paramedical staff and two or three dog handlers. Muneer said Kerala had very few rabies diagnostic centres. “I am sure we will be able to tackle the issue effectively in the days to come with the help of NGOs, dog lovers and the local administration,” he said. The state government has decided to open 500 animal birth control centres in a year to tackle stray dog menace.
The order to kill stray dogs has angered animal lovers, some of whom accused the media of exaggerating the dog menace. Said Chitra Iyer, actor and singer: “Malayalis lack compassion towards animals. The so-called dog bites are mostly from pet dogs, and not stray dogs! [75.6 per cent of dog bites in Ernakulam district were by pet dogs]. In Surat, Gujarat, stray dogs were killed and this led to the outbreak of plague. Haven't we learnt any lesson?”
Animal birth control through sterilisation is the only humane solution to control the stray dog population and mass killings won’t serve any purpose, argue dog lovers. Most panchayats and municipal bodies in Kerala have a special annual allocation for controlling stray dog population through tolerant methods. But it serves little purpose. Dr Soorej K., a veterinary doctor in Kochi, said: “Dog catchers employed by the panchayats and the municipal corporations are scared to kill aggressive stray dogs. Mostly, it is the friendly dogs that get killed.” Dumping of waste, especially meat waste, is one of the main reasons for the increasing stray dog population in the state. The mayor of Thiruvananthapuram K. Chandrika, said, “In my city, waste management is an issue. There is no centralised waste management system. Hence, waste get dumped here and there and it increases the stray dog population in the city.” Chandrika has taken the help of the Humane Society International (HSI), an NGO entrusted with stray dog management programme in Thiruvananthapuram. The HSI, with the help of the municipal corporation, lures dogs using food and takes them for sterilisation. “The city corporation is happy with the work done by the HSI for stray dog management. The animal birth control programme has been going on effectively for the past six months. Until now, around 640 dogs have been sterilised,” said Chandrika, whose effort in this direction has received praise. Said Maneka: “In Thiruvananthapuram, most stray dogs are vaccinated. This is one of the reasons why there are very few dog bite cases there.”
The Animal Welfare Board has warned the Kerala government against the killing of stray dogs. Said its chairman, Dr R.M. Kharb, “I have written a letter to the chief minister. To kill stray dogs is simply ridiculous. It should not happen in Kerala. Cruelty doesn’t gel with our cultural ethos. We are looking at sterilisation programmme for stray dogs in Kerala. We will be asking the Union government for funds.”
Legal experts say that killing of stray dogs should be the last resort. Said Kodoth Sridharan, advocate, Kerala High Court: “Unless a dog is affected with rabies or is extremely dangerous, the laws in our country don't permit killing of dogs. If not adhered to by the authorities, it is a punishable offence.” According to section 11 (1) (a) to (o) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, it is illegal to kill homeless animals like dogs or treat them with cruelty. “Also, according to Article 51(a) of the Constitution of India, it is the duty of every citizen to have compassion for living creatures that include dogs. There are also many other acts and laws that give protection to stray dogs,” said Sridharan. “But, of course, there are clauses for the exception doctrine of necessity where a stray dog can be killed if deemed a necessity.”
According to the World Health Organisation, 36 per cent of rabies deaths in the world occur in India. Many cities like Jaipur, Bengaluru and Chennai have been able to effectively curb the problems caused by stray dogs by running successful neutering and vaccination programmes. “Why can’t this happen in Kerala,” asked Nikunj Sharma, campaign strategist, PETA. “All stray dogs should be compulsorily vaccinated and sterilised to prevent rabies or large increase in their population. There is a systematic way to go about it. Will China, which has the largest population in the world, start killing its own people, just because their population is increasing?” The increasing number of dog bite cases in Kerala is worrying many, with hospitals in the state ill-equipped to face the challenge. Said M. Najabudin, a shopkeeper in Kochi: “When I leave for home after work, dozens of stray dogs surround me. Some have chased me. I have somehow managed to escape.” Maneka said it was wrong to conclude that all dogs that bark or are aggressive are rabies-affected. “Rabies-affected dogs don't bark. It is a loose way of explaining a scientific term,” she said. She deplored the fact that panchayats in Kerala hire young men to kill dogs for a fixed sum. “I think it is Rs 70 per dog. The Kerala government needs to do away with such laws that encourage killing of stray dogs,” Maneka said. Recently in a village in Pathanamthitta district, more than 40 dogs were killed after one of them bit a man. No steps were taken to find out if the dogs that were killed had rabies. In Nileshwar in Kasargod district, a resident complained that a pet dog that wandered away from its home was beaten to death, after authorities mistook it for a rabies-affected stray dog.
Said film actor Kavya Madhavan: “These incidents of dog biting people are dangerous. I don't know why it happens. I am not a crazy dog lover. But I don't approve killing of stray dogs. We need to find a practical way to tackle the issue.” In February 2015, the Supreme Court had questioned the authority of the municipal bodies in the country to catch dogs and kill them “merely because they are nuisance to the people”. Justice Dipak Misra, who heard the petition, said that people in India were naturally inclined to hate stray dogs—a situation he termed “dog phobia”.
Stay with stray
*Stray dogs in India are mostly known as Indian pariah dogs. The name pariah, which originated from the Tamil word Paraiyar, means a person who is not accepted or respected by a social group.
*There are more than three crore stray dogs in India. Stray dogs are generally looked after well in cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai and Jaipur, with birth control programmes and anti-rabies injections administered by NGOs with the help of the government.
*According to the World Health Organisation, 36 per cent of rabies deaths in the world occurs in India. More than one lakh people were bitten by dogs in Kerala in the last one year; six of them died.
*The common symptoms of rabies in dogs include the dog getting restless, irritable and dangerous with everyone including its owners. In the final stages, the dog becomes disoriented, has seizures and eventually dies. Rabies vaccination, available in all major veterinary hospitals in the country, prevents dogs from getting affected with rabies.
Ways to prevent dog bites:
*Do not panic or run when a stray dog comes near you. When a person runs, it activates the chase instinct in dogs.
*If a stray dog pounces on you, lie down on your stomach and cover your face.
*Don’t push the dog away or fight with it.
*Do not go near a dog feeding her puppies or dogs that are mating.
*Avoid throwing stones at dogs without any provocation.