“The [Kerala] government will instruct the local self-governing bodies to kill dangerous dogs, who pose a threat to human beings, by administering medicines,” Kerala’s local self governance minister KT Jaleel said in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday.
Jaleel’s statement is both dangerous and ambiguous at the same time. It is dangerous because it reflects the inhuman face of a government when faced with public outrage; and it’s ambiguous because it reflects the confusion the State is facing in how to tackle the menace stray dogs pose.
The Pinarayi Vijayan government has gone on the overdrive after receiving several reports of people being attacked by stray dogs, especially after the death of a 65-year-old woman who was attacked by a pack of dogs on a beach in the state capital on Friday.
There is widespread anger across Kerala against what many term as the State’s love for canines over humans. This anger is seen in media debates on television channels and was reflected when a group called Kerala Cyber Warriors hacked the website People For Animals, of which Union minister Maneka Gandhi is the chairperson, and posted the message ‘#Stray_Dog_Free_India’.
That said, such incidents should not be used as an excuse to meet out cruelty towards animals. It should not be forgotten that there are adequate provisions in the law that uphold and protect the rights of animals.
Earlier, while hearing appeals by animal lovers against decisions of municipal bodies to ‘tackle’ the stray dog menace, which in some cases advocated culling them, the Supreme Court asked state governments to vaccinate nuisance-causing stray dogs in accordance with existing laws, but also said that there should be a balance between ‘compassion for dogs and the lives of human beings’.
According to the Mumbai municipal corporation, in 2015 more than 46,000 dog bite cases were reported and five people died due to rabies. An initial report submitted by the Supreme Court-appointed Justice Siri Jagan panel to look into the complaints of dog bite victims in Kerala states that till May this year about 31,000 dog bite cases were reported. In 2015, the number was an alarming 1.22 lakh.
Maharashtra and Kerala are not alone in reporting such cases. In January, a boy was mauled by a pack of dogs in Punjab. In May, a minor girl was attacked by dogs while playing outside her house in Bengaluru. She was hospitalised with more than 50 dog bite wounds. In June, a 10-year-old was mauled to death by stray dogs in Khargone, in Madhya Pradesh
In the light of such a large number of cases it is quite natural to expect the public to be angry that little is being done to address the problem. But killing a stray dog is both illegal and is not a practical solution to the problem. It is illegal because according to the Animal Birth Control Rules 2001, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, stray dogs can only be vaccinated and sterilised under the Animal Birth Control Programme. According to the ABCP, stray dogs that are neutered or vaccinated against rabies need to be released from where they were picked up. Killing all stray dogs is also an impractical option. Imagine if a panchayat or a municipality decides to ‘get rid’ of all stray dogs within its limits. This would be a temporary solution as stray dogs from neighbouring areas will soon fill that ‘vacuum’.
Our shoddy — and in many cases non-existent — waste management techniques also contribute to the problem. The ready availability of food waste, from hotels, RWAs, etc, attracts stray dogs. That could be a reason why stray dogs are a menace more in urban areas than in rural areas.
The problems caused by stray dogs cannot be overlooked and needs to be addressed in a scientific manner. For long-term solutions all stakeholders need to be involved and, reasonable and responsible measures need to be taken: Governments should not be swayed by public sentiments, and the public should not expect a quick-fix solution. Governments and local bodies need to be adequately trained and funds must be made available to carry out vaccination and sterilisation drives. What should also be done simultaneously is for every home and local body to adopt proper waste-disposal techniques.
All this shows that a stray dog has few friends. Compassion and an understanding of the problem do not mean putting human lives at risk. As observed by the apex court, it’s necessary to maintain a balance.