November 6, 2023
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we discuss whether India needs to change its approach to stray dogs.
Note: We only have the feature story for today.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Does India need to change its approach to stray dogs?
On October 22, Parag Desai the scion of the Gujarat Tea Processors and Packers Limited, the company behind the famed Wagh Bakri tea brand succumbed to his injuries. His injuries were the result of a fall from fending off a stray dog attack. A devoted animal lover himself and a generous contributor to the stray rehabilitation cause, Desai’s death once again brought back public attention to India’s stray dog menace discourse.
With stereotypes of loyal, friendly, and intelligent, dogs have evolved to co-exist with humans over 25,000 years. They give us emotional support, companionship, and protection. They were also responsible for over 4,000 human deaths in India in 2019.
As publicity around dog attacks increases, society’s intolerance against them rises too. It leads us to question whether our existing animal protection laws have failed to protect humans instead. Do we need to become more radical in our approach, perhaps like the state of Bihar which earlier this year flew in teams of snipers to eliminate over 30 “man-eating” dogs?
In 2012, around 3.5 million Indians were victims of dog bites. In 2020, despite it being a pandemic year with most of the country locked in, the number had risen to 7 million. However, the number of “street dogs” in India declined from 1.71 crores in 2012 to 1.53 crores in 2019 to ZERO in 2023! That is because as per the new Prevention of Cruelty (Animal Birth Control) Rules, 2023, all street dogs are now to be identified as “community dogs” since they are a “part of the community akin to squirrels or birds.” So, the number of “community dogs” in India as of 2023 has more than doubled from 2019 to 3.5 crore.
This explosive growth has been essentially due to improper waste disposal and a lack of proper animal control measures which has led to the unchecked breeding of strays. Uninformed, over-excited pet parents later abandoning their pets also contributes to this number. As a result, visuals and news of horrific canine maulings every few months have become commonplace causing public outrage.
However, this widening scope of human-dog conflict has meant that violence hasn’t been one-sided. Human-inflicted cruelty towards stray dogs has also become more commonplace and has often been disproportionate.
The Indian Constitution implores its citizens to have compassion for animals and sets strict protection laws. India has laws that make it illegal to remove a dog from the streets. So once a dog is on the streets, it has a “right” to stay there unless adopted. The only thing that can happen is for the dog to be sterilized and vaccinated. In 2001, the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program was introduced by the government. It aimed to control the population of stray dogs through sterilisation and vaccination and has seen periods of successes and failures in its implementation. Additionally, the Indian government has passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, which prohibits cruelty to animals, including stray dogs. A revision of rules in 2023 has also given “community dog caregivers” (like people who feed strays) protection from harassment from other people and civic authorities.
The brunt of the stray dog problem has historically been borne by the poorest with their disproportionate representation in dog-bite and child-mauling instances. However, a spate of highly publicised dog attacks in the past years and recent victims being from the economically elite strata has led people to question the nation’s long-standing canine reverence. Asking whether more should be done to put human interests first with many even issuing calls for mass cullings.
VIEW: Current laws ineffective
India has the highest rabies burden in the world due to its street dogs with robust legal protection. These strays often become aggressive, form packs as is their territorial nature and attack humans.
Even the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, which is the principal Act for the protection of animals, recognises that dogs are domestic animals, suffer on the streets due to homelessness and also impact human beings, and they should therefore be sheltered, re-homed, removed or euthanised. Until 2001, municipal bodies used to euthanise strays in gas chambers. However, the 2001 Animal Birth Control Rules took these powers away from them. Recently, the Kerala government petitioned the Supreme Court that it be allowed once again to take up culling of dogs; however, the SC rejected the request.
While the concept of euthanasia might seem reprehensible to some, it is a thought that needs to be built into people’s thinking. When your premises are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, the municipality sprays them dead. Like mosquitoes, dogs too have no ecological role and their cuteness should not cloud people’s judgement. Several countries including the U.S. have a zero-tolerance policy for stray dogs and up to three million dogs are euthanised every year. In India however, we allow these animals to end up on the streets, and leave them there.
Existing and proposed laws have failed us or are too utopian to be effective. Necessary measures have not been implemented by local authorities to adequately and scientifically manage the street dog population. The lack of budget and infrastructure, the prevalence of corrupt and inefficient practices, and the absence of transparency and monitoring have been challenges for the past two decades and will remain so. Instead, by virtue of utilitarian principles, prioritising the maximum good for most people, India must take radical steps towards these ‘cute evolved pests’.
COUNTERVIEW: Genocide not the answer
In colonial times, Indians and street dogs were given the same position in society with little restraint in the killings of either. The British Raj also routinely took out mass killing drives to keep the stray population in check. That approach, however, did not work then, and it won’t work now. Nature allows animals to have as many offspring as frequently as there is space in the environment. If there is a vacuum, it will be occupied by a more inconvenient species such as rats, mice, mongoose or cockroaches.
The London Plague of 1665 was a result of the killing of 2,50,000 dogs. The mice population grew, and 70% of the human population was wiped out by the Black Death. A similar incident also happened in Surat in 1994.
More often than dogs, it is the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) that are the instigators of violence. By refusing to let people feed community dogs and targeting those who do, they force the dogs to become aggressive. Dogs get aggressive only when they perceive a threat. They want to protect themselves or their litter from attacks, if they are unwell or hungry, have been forcibly relocated, or have witnessed abuse and neglect. This can simply be remedied if we are kind to them and follow management rules which have been clearly set out by national and state governments and various courts.
Rather than resorting to reactionary mass killings, implementing effective birth control programs, creating responsible systems for feeding strays and collaborating with welfare groups is the long-term solution. Stray dogs and humans can coexist safely if the political will and resources are both available. For instance, Mumbai has not seen a single rabies death for five years while the number of dog bites recorded in the city has fallen by 30 per cent since 2018.
Studies have shown that societies violent towards animals are also violent towards their own members. Calls for mass culling (genocide) of dogs are merely a projection of people’s inherently violent and hateful nature. If we claim to be the superior species, we must act responsibly, scientifically, and humanely.
- Understanding the street dogs-human conflict – The Hindu
- India’s stray dog menace: A crisis of proportions – The Times of India
- Is the Stray Dog Menace Pushing India Into Medieval Ages? – News18
- India has a brutal plan to deal with its stray dogs problem – The Telegraph
What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) India needs a more radical approach to stray dogs.
b) A radical approach to stray dogs is not justified.