Man's best friend may well have a much-needed ally in its corner in the country's highest judicial body.
The Supreme Court on Monday, while refusing to be "dog-phobic", questioned the authority of municipal bodies to pick stray dogs off the streets and kill them simply because they are a "nuisance" to the public.
"A faithful dog is a faithful friend," said a bench headed by justice Dipak Misra while hearing a petition filed by People for Elimination of Stray Animals, which wants stray dogs to be killed as they are a menace.
The bench noted the animal welfare laws do not clearly define "nuisance" and that causes a problem.
Posting the case for detailed hearing on March 25, justice Misra also noted the subjective definitions in the animal acts also meant that people with a ingrained dislike to canines - "the dog-phobic" - would be naturally more inclined to brand the animal a nuisance.
Under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, if civic bodies receive a complaint that a dog has become a source of public nuisance they can "seize" the so-called offending canine, drag it to the local pound and kill it.
The Centre, however, took a contrary stance in the Animal Birth Control Rules (ABC rules) formulated under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act of 1960, and only permits extermination of rabid, terminally-ill or mortally wounded dogs.
Given the difference between local and Central laws, senior advocate Anand Grover, appearing for Animal Welfare Board, submitted that "nuisance" is a subjective term.
"When a dog barks, for some people it is a nuisance," he said adding extermination of stray dogs for just being a nuisance was unfair to the animals who mostly react to human stimuli.
"Many such dogs behave in such a way because they are troubled by people throwing stones at it or when it is subjected to some sort of pain," said Grover adding the municipality had alternative options such as sterilising the canine.
Grover pointed out that the SC had observed that all animals, even owner-less stray dogs, were entitled to a life of dignity. He was pointing to the 2014 decision banning jallikattu in Tamil Nadu.
Senior advocate TR Andhyarujina said the court should decide on whether there was "any discretion given to municipal authorities to put a dog to sleep."
"We feel there is no such discretion given. You cannot put a dog to sleep unless it has rabies or is terminally ill," said Andhyarujina.