Wildbuzz: A minority’s blackmail
Feeding animals in public places violates municipal laws concerning littering and cleanliness. Feeders are unintentionally creating a major public health hazard by aggregating dogs in one area.
A retired IAF Wing Commander, Jagjit Singh, awaits the arrest of a street vendor, Sundar, who allegedly assaulted him on July 3 in Sector 7, Panchkula. Sundar had been irked by Singh’s practice of feeding stray dogs as “they created problems for him”. The assault has been rightly condemned but compulsive “do-gooders” like Singh do seem ignorant of the consequences upon neighbours/local communities of feeding dogs. They fling cheap biscuits/breads at their four-legged best friends while conveniently shirking collateral responsibilities such as vaccinations, sterilisations and adoption/ownership.
I sought the perspective of Dr Abi T Vanak, a global expert on dog management, fellow at the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance Programme (Intermediate Clinical and Public Health Fellowship), and associate professor at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru.
“Direct feeding of any free-ranging animal, not directly under human care or supervision, is a very bad practice. It results in artificial rise in the density of animals and increase in aggression towards non-feeders, and causes nuisance and disturbance to the public. Feeding animals in public places violates municipal laws concerning littering and cleanliness. Feeders are unintentionally creating a major public health hazard by aggregating dogs in one area,” Dr Vanak told this writer.
“People who are not familiar with dogs, especially children, may feel threatened when a dog approaches them for food, and may run, triggering a chase and attack response by the dog. If packs of dogs are around, then all of them will pounce, resulting in the kind of tragedy witnessed in Chandigarh (a toddler was killed by dogs in Sector 18 on June 17). Dogs are a major road safety hazard and fear of dogs even leads people to stop walking on certain streets or avoid going out at night (including vulnerable two-wheeler owners hounded by nipping-at-the-ankles dogs). This infringes on the fundamental right to freedom of life and movement!” said Dr Vanak.
Commenting on the belief circulated by dog advocacy groups that feeding dogs lowers their aggression, Dr Vanak said “the very opposite can happen as feeding makes dogs defensive of their territory to other humans who are not feeders.
On the other hand, it causes a situation where abundance of resources (food) in one spot actually ends up increasing the density of dogs. This can be observed in parks where feeders feed hundreds of dogs. The proponents of Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, maintain that dogs are territorial towards other dogs, and will, therefore, prevent new dogs from coming in. However, food provisioning nullifies this tendency.”
In a nutshell, compassion heedless of its larger consequences is injurious to public health. Or, such “good intentions” actually constitute a tiny minority’s blackmail and pave the path to hell for the majority!
A recent global study by leading researchers, Dr Abi T Vanak, Tim Doherty, Chris Dickman, Alistair Glen, Thomas Newsome, Dale Nimmo, Euan Ritchie and Aaron Wirsing, reveals that dogs contributed to 11 vertebrate extinctions and were a known or potential threat to at least 188 threatened species, including 96 mammals, 78 birds, 22 reptiles and three amphibians. The list includes 30 critically-endangered species, two of which were classed as “possibly extinct”.
These numbers place dogs as the world’s third-most damaging and invasive of mammalian predators, behind rodents and cats. There are now an estimated 1 billion domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) across their near-global distribution, including pet dogs. The menace of dogs is an accompaniment to the “trample and crush” advance of the human boot on nature.
Dogs also harm wildlife by spreading disease, inter-breeding with other canids, competing for resources such as food or shelter, and causing disturbances by chasing or harassment.
(The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)