- Written by Anando Das Gupta
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The Indian Express
Sub: Venom spewing article titled ‘A bizarre and unscientific policy is behind the menace of stray dogs all over India’ published in The Indian Express dated 27-7-20
I am writing to you to present the facts, rather than my personal opinion, over a venom spewing article titled ‘A bizarre and unscientific policy is behind the menace of stray dogs all over India’ written by Ms. Coomi Kapoor published in The Indian Express dated 27-7-20’ (removed article link because don't wont to popularise such a pathetic article) targeting The Animal Birth Control (ABC) Programme, a Government of India policy aimed at eradication of rabies while simultaneously containing the stray dog population in a humane manner.
First of all, ABC is not a programme meant to please the animal lovers. Rather, it is meant to be the bridge that brings the entire society together to harmoniously learn to live responsibly (feeding-sterilisation-vaccination-feeding) with the stray dogs as a part of the Indian community. The common man first has to understand what the ABC programme is all about (explained in three phases below) and why it is the need of the hour, as any other public health programme is;
1. Catching of unsterilized dogs: Dogs (non-pregnant and non-lactating female dogs, male dogs, no pups) with unclipped ears are caught (in a humane manner - a key mandate for easy catching of dogs for sterilisation is their prior domestication through feeding and friendly behaviour), tagged with IDs on the spot – ideally accompanied with a photograph (for correct identification of location to be brought back to the place they were picked up from) in a systematic area-wise approach. Otherwise dogs picked at random lead to only a few dogs in the locality being sterilised while the others are left out. Figures get back to their original numbers once the unspayed dogs mate and deliver. Thus, it is very important to rope in the local community to ensure that all the area dogs are caught.
2. Stay at the ABC unit: Spaying of female dogs and neutering of male dogs, clipping of ears (an easy way to identify dogs already sterilised and vaccinated against rabies) by skilled and qualified vets, post-op care in hygienic surroundings with painkillers and antibiotics.
3. Release of sterilised dogs back to the place they had been picked up from: It is in the best of interests to allow the dogs to be brought back and ensure they be fed. Moreover, through regular feeding and by letting the resident stray dogs live in the premises they belong to, it creates a familiarity between people and stray dogs and thus lowers the instances of man-animal conflict. The stray dogs also help guard the territory by not letting any other outside dog in and also help keep the anti-social elements at bay (the reason they bark at night and chase rash drivers). While some people do not want the dogs back thinking it will make their area dog free zone they need to understand that another pack of dogs fill up the same area in no time, leading to dog fights, dog bites. It is the law of the nature. Apparently, these new dogs might not be sterilised nor vaccinated.
Eventually, when people observe zero population growth, acceptance for stray dogs as a part of our society increases. This later on translates to care and concern from the people’s end towards a dog’s well-being. We need to understand that it takes time for the results of ABC to appear (the dog has to be allowed to live its life), there is no better way of scientifically and humanely controlling the dog population and achieving the harmony between us and the dogs, unlike the absurd statement ‘The ABC offers no scientific method for a systematic vaccination drive and stabilising the country’s canine population’ made in the article. So how do our “humanistic” ABC rules miss the rabies component, I fail to understand. Hatred towards the stray dogs often clouds the sense to understand the science and shun the logic behind ABC, Ms. Kapoor’s words are an exact reflection of that.
It needs to be noted that it is not merely the responsibility of the Municipal Corporations or of the AWOs or of the animal lovers alone, but of the society as a whole (RWA’s) to ensure the resident dogs are sterilised and vaccinated against rabies. This is so because, no public health programme can be a success until and unless the public or the common man, an important stakeholder, participates. That said, for increasing the accountability on the part of the AWOs and respective Municipal Corporations, the ABC programme should be digitised, like all public health initiatives are, to bring transparency. Setting up of a national/state toll free number or a grievance redressal/feedback system for ABC that can also act as a medium to share best practices (a strategy to boost and strengthen public health programmes) and success stories of ABC programme can be another way to embolden effective implementation.
Even when the ABC programme is run successfully, there are other factors that create a hindrance. Unscrupulous illegal dog breeders sell dogs like commodities, unworthy owners abandon them, and many a times these dogs are not even sterilised and vaccinated against rabies, take for instance the great Dane mentioned in the article. On many occasions, the pet owners even unethically leave their dogs on the streets to mate and the numbers increase again. This eventually adds on to the dog population on the roads. The possible solutions lie in cracking down on unscrupulous breeders and creating a database to blacklist people who abandon dogs.
Community participation is a lot easier said than done. Usually any human intervention in the form of feeding with the primary goal of befriending the dogs for sterilisation, vaccination against rabies (yearly booster shots included), taking care of day to day well-being of the stray dogs sooner or the later draws attention and subsequently resistance. We cannot act alien to the repeated episodes of harassment that people with a compassionate heart have to face. While the laws might have been termed bizarre by the author and feeders portrayed no lesser than terrorists, we all know that the laws are framed keeping in mind the science and the logic in addition to allowing us to peacefully mutually co-exist with the stray dogs. Compassionate and responsible citizens who care for and feed stray dogs are fulfilling their Constitutional Rights and Duties under Article 51 A, Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. They are rendering great help by feeding the stray dogs as they are assisting in easing the man animal conflict. Feeders were not absent during the lockdown. They stepped out, braved the threat of COVID-19 but did not give up on feeding animals.
Now, coming to the dog bites part. A person getting in the way of a dog definitely DOES NOT lead to a dog bite. Positive human behaviours, no acts of provocation (like carrying a stick or stone in anticipation to hit the dog), sensitization of children and adult alike (to understand they are an integral part of the Indian community fabric) are the only means other than the ABC through which episodes of dog bites can be brought down. Does anyone ever write what provokes a dog to bite? A dog bites only when it fears for its life. Importantly, dogs behave with us the way we behave with them. So, maybe we need to look at ourselves first before pointing fingers at them. It will come as a surprise to many that most of the dog bite cases that are registered with the Government hospitals are from house pets and not from the stray dogs and the collective blame is just put on the latter (I say this on the basis of the RTIs I have filed)! Then, if one individual comes to take a booster shot, then the data is recorded as that of a new dog bite! Now we should be able to understand where the exaggerated numbers come from while the reality might be so different altogether.
Media has played a fundamental role in creating stray dog phobia and shocking episodes of yellow journalism have equally marred ABC programme, just like this rabid article unfit to be published in a national daily did! I expect a corrigenda to be written with facts and not opinions. Give compassion a chance.
Dr. Kuhu Roy