In The Name Of Animal Welfare: How India’s National Policy On Stray Dogs Keeps Them On The Streets
What keeps the dogs on the streets and what prevents India from providing a workable and effective solution to the growing menace of stray dogs?
In September 2017, Guntur witnessed a horrifying mauling of a child by a pack of 17 dogs. Praveen Kumar, 4, a son of labourers, had left the house to play with his sister. The dogs, a growing menace in the vicinity, attacked him. According to the report, the dogs “bit the child in the neck, face, hands, chest, shoulders and legs in an attack that lasted more than 30 minutes until he was left in a semi-conscious condition”. Praveen Kumar was declared brought dead by the hospital.
A five-year-old boy was mauled to death recently, near Hinjewadi, Pune. Statistics from Pune Municipal Corporation, as per this report, reveal that, “at least 28 citizens were bitten every day by stray dogs making for an average of 10,000 dog bite cases in 2017”.
In March 2015, a stray dog bit several residents in a locality in Chandigarh, including six children. Between January and March that year, Chandigarh registered 1,200 cases of dog bite. The municipal corporation, the report said, had “failed to check the menace”. Mayor Poonam Sharma wrote to Maneka Gandhi, Woman and Child Development Minister and well-known animal rights activist, requesting her to meet municipal councilors, citing the increasing cases of dog bites and medical intervention required by children bitten.
Municipal councilors wish to meet you with regard to amendment in the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 which is urgently required. It is brought to your kind notice that residents of Chandigarh are facing a major problem of stray dog biting. The number of cases of stray dog bites is increasing day by day. The future of children is becoming dark due to this problem and we are unable to sort it out without amendment in rules. A six-year-old girl was rushed to PGI as she was bitten on her lips and is scheduled to undergo plastic surgery. A 10-year-old girl received three stitches on the head and other children were bitten on the right arm and back.From Mayor Poonam Sharma’s letter to Maneka Gandhi
Who are the beneficiaries of keeping the dogs on the streets?
The threat is not restricted to human life. Feral dogs are posing a serious threat to Indian wildlife. Conservation India lists several instances of dogs attacking, hunting, and chasing away wildlife, including several endangered species, in different parts of India.
Dogs, according to this report, are turning predators. It says, “Blackbuck and desert foxes, olive ridley turtles and vultures — and even a leopard — are among the species attacked between 2000 and 2016, finds a study published in the journal Animal Conservation. As much as 48% of these incidents occurred within or near protected areas — from Mayureshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra to the Wild Ass Sanctuary in Gujarat and Nagarahole National Park in Karnataka. At 60 million, the dog population in India is the fourth highest in the world, and this owes largely to poor population control programmes, weak dog ownership rules and freely available food waste...”
Human’s best friend is turning into a top predator, attacking and killing endangered species, affecting the ecosystem as a result. Who is to blame?
In the cities, municipal authorities are blamed for the growing numbers and growls on the streets. While the authorities want to remove dogs from the streets, people representing animal welfare organisations insist on carrying on an “unworkable programme” to reduce the conflict between man and mongrel. Victims are blamed for the attacks. Sometimes, any action towards the removal of stray dogs, usually following incidents of dog bites, hits a roadblock – of activism, which can be very discouraging, even for genuine animal lovers.
In February, four guards at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IIT-K) campus were in trouble for allegedly causing injury to stray dogs while trapping them at the campus, after complaints about the increasing numbers of stray dogs in the area and the risk posed to students and others. There have been 87 instances of dog bites reported at the IIT-K campus in a year. The institute decided to remove two stray dogs from its campus after concerns on the increasing cases of dog bites. The action, according to this report, led Maneka Gandhi taking up the matter with the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and asking the ministry to take action against those responsible for removing the canines on campus.
What keeps the dogs on the streets and what prevents India from providing a workable and effective solution to the growing menace of stray dogs?
Dog lover and independent researcher Meghna Uniyal responds to queries from Swarajya on the matter and related policies. Edited excerpts.
Tell us about India’s national policy on stray dogs, rabies, and its control.
India’s national policy for dog population and canine rabies control, called the Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme, was developed by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), and has been implemented in various cities since 1994. The Ministry of Health has never been involved in the control of a fatal yet totally preventable disease like rabies. Based on the ABC programme, the Ministry of Culture issued the Dog Control Rules, 2001, even though the ministry has nothing to do with public health, disease control, and/or animals.
Though the ABC programme has been promoted as a ‘humane alternative’ to dog and rabies control, it negates, in fact, the tremendous work of renowned artiste Rukmini Devi Arundale, who introduced the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act in 1960. India became one of the first countries, globally, to provide rights to domestic animals so that they could be protected by law against cruelty and suffering caused by ill treatment, neglect, and abandonment. The ABC programme requires the release of unwanted/homeless dogs to an unsupervised life on the streets where nobody can be held responsible for or prosecuted for cruelty, starvation, injuries, and death. The programme legalises straying, puts dogs in direct conflict with people, and is a perversion of public policy.
People should know that far from dealing with the problem of straying dogs and saving homeless animals, the policy also requires homeless pups to be necessarily born on the streets and unwanted dogs to be homeless permanently.
How does wildlife come in direct conflict with hungry and homeless dogs?
Under the ABC policy, homeless/unwanted dogs are released in public places, the outskirts of cities and forested areas – places where they were deemed to be creating a nuisance in the first place. This brings them in direct and increased conflict with people and other animals. Multiple studies have revealed the effects of stray dog populations on wildlife throughout the country. Hungry dogs continue to attack neelgai, deer, other wild animals and birds, and also livestock. What else are hungry, homeless dogs supposed to do?
Diseases from domestic dogs to wild animals also have the potential to wipe out wild populations.
Do NGOs (non-governmental organisations) benefit from policies related to stray animals and their implementation?
Technically, people, dogs, and governments are meant to benefit from dog control policies.
AWOs (animal welfare organisations) are supposed to cater to that segment of the dog population that is homeless and suffers on the streets. However, India is perhaps the only country in the world where they themselves promote the idea of homeless dogs remaining homeless. They use public funds NOT to shelter homeless animals, even though this is a mandate of the AWBI – to set up shelters for homeless/unwanted animals. The ABC policy of forcibly maintaining homeless dogs in public places, rather than protecting them by providing them shelter, is the antithesis of animal welfare and promotes cruelty. If the idea is to ‘prevent the killing of dogs’, leaving unclaimed and ownerless dogs on the streets to die of diseases, accidents, and starvation does not achieve this in any way.
Shockingly, official AWBI literature claims that stray dogs are “Indian/desi dogs” and “street animals” prevent burglaries, eat garbage, and are needed for the ecological balance in cities. It is inexcusable that the AWBI and NGOs don’t even know the difference between homeless, mixed-bred dogs on the streets, and indigenous Indian breeds!
Dogs are domestic, companion animals that are not meant to live on the streets. It is a cruel irony that AWOs seek to ‘save Indian dogs’ by neutering and leaving them on the streets, when in fact true Indian breeds like the Mudhol, Rajapalayam, Santal, and Carvan hounds need to be bred extensively if they are to survive in the future.
Is the ABC programme or the Dog Control Rules, 2001, based on WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines?
The ABC programme or the Dog Control Rules, 2001, is in fact NOT based on WHO guidelines. This is completely false, self-serving, and misleading propaganda peddled by the AWBI and AWOs.
WHO recommendations for the control of dog populations and rabies incidence are stated in a single sentence: promote and enforce pet control laws, undertake sustained re-immunisation, and remove (shelter, re-home, euthanise) unwanted dogs. In particular, they urge governments to give the greatest encouragement to the identification and neutering of pet dogs.
While the entire owned dog population in India roams free and breeds out of the ambit of any control measure, the ABC programme concentrates on and directs all infrastructural and financial resources on that population of dogs that do not belong to anyone, cannot breed successfully, and do not contribute to their own population, and cannot be caught annually for re-vaccination.
Your thoughts on internal reviews of the AWBI and the ABC programme done by the Ministry of Environment & Forests?
The AWBI, the functioning of AWOs, and the implementation and efficacy of the ABC programme have been studied and reviewed by the Ministry of Environment & Forests multiple times, most notably in 1999, 2008, and 2015. It is not for no reason that the reviews and audits have never been made public.
The reviews expose corrupt practices by the AWBI, mismanagement and misappropriation of funds by AWOs in the name of “animal welfare”, and an appalling lack of even rudimentary knowledge of dog control and welfare on the part of the AWBI and NGOs.
What action is the government taking with regard to these illegalities?
Is the ABC programme successful?
Mahatma Gandhi said, “Roving dogs do not show compassion and civilization in society; they betray instead the ignorance and lethargy of its members.”
By definition, dog control programmes are successful when they protect both people and dogs from diseases, dog attacks in public places, on wildlife and livestock, and prevent the suffering of homeless dogs. The ABC programme, on the other hand, is a cruel joke on the people and dogs of this country. The complete ignorance of the AWBI and NGOs coupled with their brazen misinformation campaign has brought us to a point where dog attacks are reported in the media every single day and now, for the first time, there are reports of retaliatory attacks on dogs.
Despite children being mauled and even dying from stray dog attacks, the AWBI continues to misrepresent facts even in the Supreme Court with bizarre claims of “Indian street dogs” and AWOs being able to “eliminate the alpha tendency” in biting dogs. The AWBI and AWOs carrying out the ABC programme must be disbanded and held culpable for criminal misconduct for this blatant and deliberate deception of the public and courts, deaths of hundreds of citizens, and cruelty to animals.
Again, why is this being allowed to continue?
Tell us about the rabies component in the ABC programme.
There is no rabies component in India’s only official rabies control programme!
Prevention of human rabies deaths by post-bite vaccination of every person that is bitten, is not rabies control. Control and prevention of rabies requires annual vaccination of at least 80 per cent of the total dog population to prevent the spread of the disease from dogs to dogs and dogs to humans. The ABC programme, however, mandates that ownerless dogs be left back on the streets under no supervision – how such dogs are to be identified and accurately re-immunised annually has neither been defined nor ever been attempted by the AWBI. Neither the AWBI nor the ABC programme has ever mentioned any methodology for rabies control.
This also means that AWOs dump dogs in public places knowing they are not disease-free.
How does it impact stray dogs?
Straying dog populations on the streets include free-roaming pets as well as ownerless, homeless dogs. While pets are taken care of by their owners, homeless dogs are caught by municipal dog vans and AWOs and then thrown back on to the streets to die of starvation, disease, and accidents.
Sterilisation of these dogs does not protect them in any way, nor does it prevent them from spreading rabies, biting and attacking people out of hunger, territoriality, and fear. By promoting the ABC programme/dog rules, the AWBI has defeated the most important objectives of the PCA Act – to recognise and promote their right to live in a safe and disease-free environment.
Where do the state governments and central and local authorities step in when it comes to managing street dog populations?
Health is a state subject and it is the statutory, civic duty of local authorities as defined by Municipal Acts across the country to keep the streets free of straying animals, check the spread of diseases, and prevent public nuisance. The ABC programme transfers this responsibility of the government to voluntary organisations with no liability.
State governments and the Centre continue to spend crores of rupees on post-bite treatment/vaccination, rabies deaths, man hours lost, and accidents. Local authorities spend taxpayer money on maintaining dog vans and pounds and manpower. Citizens, especially the poor, continue to face dog attacks in public places, with children being attacked regularly. Livestock and wildlife are now increasingly under attack from hungry and homeless dogs, which also spread diseases to wild populations. Unwanted, homeless dogs suffer and die due to accidents, diseases, and starvation. They are now even subject to retaliatory attacks from people, who have no other recourse but to take matters into their own hands. The only beneficiaries of the ABC programme are the AWOs, which get taxpayer money to build private hospitals and boarding for pets and leave homeless animals on the streets.
Suggestions to policy makers?
We don't have to reinvent the wheel for this one. The problem of unwanted, surplus dogs, irresponsible dog ownership, and rabies is not unique to India. This is not an 'Indian' problem. It has been studied in different parts of the world and the WHO has published exhaustive guidelines for the same. Based on those same guidelines of enforcing pet control laws, neutering and vaccinating pets, and sheltering of homeless animals, most of the world has successfully eradicated rabies, controlled dog populations, and achieved animal welfare. There is no reason we can't do the same.
The government has an obligation to formulate and fund scientific and humane legislation for disease and animal control and animal welfare. The current policy is illegal and unconstitutional as it goes against its own parent Act – the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, Article 21 – Right to Life, Municipal State Laws, the Police Act, and Public Nuisance Laws.
We have to start over with humane and scientific legislation that benefits both people and dogs.
Tell us about yourself.
I started out as a volunteer at an ABC sterilisation facility/shelter in 2000. I started researching dog control and animal welfare globally and in India, around the same time. All my research is self-funded and I continue to work with animal lovers, scientists, wildlife biologists, doctors, lawyers, veterinarians, and activists to research, promote, and get the government to implement a scientific and humane policy for dog and rabies control.
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