While the fear of rabies and being bitten by stray dogs often force residents to take law into their own hands, activists say that relocating these animals pose more harm to all. Tommy, a 10-month-old stray puppy, and a resident of a street in Bengaluru’s OMBR Layout went missing on November 27, 2018. His caregiver, Shalini Mohan, went looking for her. Tommy was found at the back of a truck in Frazer Town. Her legs were tied up and she was scared.
Shalini rescued Tommy and brought her back to OMBR Layout. Tommy went missing again and has not been found yet. Just like Tommy, hundreds of dogs in Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad have gone missing over the last one year and only a few of them have been found.
These shocking cases of stray dog disappearance have brought to fore a larger question – what is happening to these dogs?
The dog-catching racket
The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules in 2001 specifies how to catch a dog, how to operate on them, what are the dogs that can be caught. “Under this Rule, puppies less than six months, dogs that are pregnant and dogs that have contagious diseases cannot be caught. However, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) officials do not follow some of these protocols, – where the dog must be picked up, vaccinated and released back into the same area,” says Shravan Krishna, a Hyderabad-based animal rights activist.
According to Harini Raghavan, Citizens for Animal Control, hundreds of stray dogs have disappeared in the city in 2018 and only a handful of them have been found.
“One day the dogs were there and they just went missing the next day. Generally, the people who feed the stray dogs in any area, know when their dogs are not around and these cases have been steadily increasing,” Harini notes.
In Bengaluru’s Thippasandra, HSR Layout, Banaswadi, Nagavara and Madivala areas, the cases of stray dog disappearance have increased, animal rights activists say.
Bhima, missing from Bengaluru’s HSR Layout since November 6, 2018. Photo by Missing Found Streeties website.
But the story is similar in Hyderabad, Chennai and Kochi. Teja, an activist in Hyderabad says that the cases of stray dog disappearance in the city are so high that there are no longer any stray dogs in several localities.
“Disappearing of strays in localities is due to public pressure on GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) to remove dogs and many times I have come across that the GHMC officials relocate dogs due to public pressure,” he adds.
According to Shivani*, an animal rights activist in Bengaluru, several residents deliberately call the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) control room and ask them to pick up stray dogs even if the dog does not have rabies and has not bitten anyone.
BBMP officials admit that there have been instances when dogs have been picked up from one area and relocated to another area.
“These cases are very few in number. But what is happening is that there is a nexus of people posing as BBMP dog catchers. They come at night and pick up the dogs in a truck and relocate it to other areas. BBMP does not operate at night and these dog catchers who are illegally relocating the strays are paid by some resident in the locality. The residents don’t want the dogs around so they bribe some of the catchers to relocate them secretly,” the BBMP official said.
Shravan says that in Chennai the GCC sub-contracts the task to catch stray dogs and ensure they are vaccinated. “This is where the fundamental problem lies,” he says. Some residents ask the contractors to take the dog, get it vaccinated and even pay them Rs 500 extra to dump them in another location. “This is relocation – one of the reasons why dogs disappear from a neighbourhood overnight, in addition to poisoning them,” he adds.
What happens to these dogs?
According to Nandita Subbarao, an animal rights activist in Bengaluru, the dogs are generally relocated, through illegal operations at night.
“They are taken to another area. This is against the Animal Birth Control Rules. Also, the municipal corporations cannot relocate a dog. The dog has to be dropped back wherever they were before they were taken from. Sometimes they claim to take the dogs for birth control and drop them off elsewhere,” Nandita alleges.
Teja, an activist from Hyderabad, points out that dogs are territorial and relocation poses more harm to the animal and to residents. “When the dog is debilitated, then it has lesser chances of survival. The dogs are generally fed by one or persons in their locality. Now they will have to compete with other dogs in the new locality. Dogs are territorial and they end up getting into fights. More often than not, they end up fighting, injuring themselves and without any care, they succumb to their injuries,” he notes.
In Kerala, however, the relocation scenario is a little different, says Sally Varma, Education and Awareness Officer, Humane Society International, who works closely with animal rescue missions.
Whitey, missing from HSR Layout in Bengaluru since November 6, 2018. Photo by Missing Found Streeties website.
“A lot of Animal Control Birth programmes come under the Kudumbashree Mission programme. The members under this programme, however, have no idea what the initiative is about. They catch strays from random localities, with no identification of these areas. They then keep these dogs in a facility for quite some days, until the doctors perform the surgery. The Kudumbashree women then release these dogs at some other locations. A lot of dogs get relocated like this,” she elucidates.
Sally is quick to point out that nobody bothers if the pack of stray dogs in their locality is missing unless they are being fed by the people there. “In Kerala, only a few people feed these stray dogs, unlike in places like Tamil Nadu,” she adds.
Nandita Subbarao alleges that some of the dogs, which are captured illegally at night in Bengaluru are then used to adulterate meat at smaller eateries. “Shockingly, this is possible. The dogs are caught so that the meat can be adulterated and this will bring down the cost for these restaurants by half. The problem is they masquerade as BBMP officials. They come in a small auto or mini truck with BBMP logo. When people ask them they say it is for vaccination or for birth control and take them away. No one bothers to note down the vehicle number because they don’t suspect them,” she alleges.
In 2005, a man from Andhra Pradesh was caught by the Jayanagar Police in Bengaluru, while he was trying to steal dogs from a locality. The 30-year-old man Anand had revealed to the police that he was selling dog meat to dhabas in the outskirts of Bengaluru so that they could adulterate meat.
Very often, however, residents take the law into their own hands.
Poisoning of strays
In October 2018, 50 dogs were poisoned in Sanskrithi Township, near the Infosys campus in Hyderabad. The township’s management had allegedly hired people to poison the stray dogs. The dogs were all seen with foam in their mouths, their bodies shaking violently due to the poison in their system.
In Bengaluru’s Lavanya Gardens area, 16 dogs were fed poisoned meat allegedly by a resident of the locality in October 2018. A few days after this incident, another case was reported where 12 dogs were poisoned in BTM Layout. In January last year, 26 dogs were fed poison-laced meat in Vijaynagar area.
Until 1994, if a resident complained of a stray dog in a locality, the Chennai Corporation would send vehicles to take the dogs, put them in an electrocution chamber and kill them. It was then that in November 1994, animal rights activist and presently Union Minister Maneka Gandhi introduced the Animal Birth Control programme in the country – to control the population of stray dogs and to prevent rabies as well.
The World Health Organisation has pointed out that there is no evidence to suggest that the removal of dogs has had an impact on dog population densities. The culling of dogs is also not effective to control rabies. Instead, the WHO recommends scientific and systematic mass animal birth control programme and vaccination to prevent rabies.
The Chennai Corporation used to cull strays until 1994. “They cannot change their mentality so easily,” Shravan adds.
He says he has filed almost 10 to 15 cases against residents for poisoning and relocating stray dogs. “Recently, in Chitlapakkam, a resident poisoned 21 strays in his neighbourhood because one stray dog allegedly bit his hen,” he adds.
On October 1, 2018, a stray dog was beaten to death allegedly on the orders of the President of the apartment association in Chennai’s Anna Nagar. In 2016, two final year MBBS students in Chennai, Gowtham Sudarshan and Ashish Paul, were arrested for throwing a dog from the terrace of a three-storey building in Chennai.
Why the inherent fear of stray dogs?
The root cause of the hatred towards stray dogs is the fear of rabies, says Sally. According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 35,172 human deaths per year are caused by rabies in South Asia. India accounts for 36% of rabies deaths globally. While the inherent fear of the public towards stray dogs is justified, they cannot take the law into their hands and kill the dog, she says.
“There is a misconception that almost all street dogs that salivate have rabies. The best solution is to vaccinate the dog. We educate the public that it is important to fight the disease, not the carrier. The carrier need not necessarily be a dog; it could be a cow or other animals. If one is scared of rabies, every animal must be feared, including human beings,” she explains.
Sally also stresses why it is important to change this misconception for posterity. “Children in India are told that street dogs are dangerous and that they will kill human beings. They are asked to be careful if they see a stray on the road, maybe run or even throw stones at them. If some dogs are aggressive, it is because of the environment they grow up. If a puppy is subjected to seeing the violence around it, it is bound to grow up into an aggressive animal,” she warns, adding, “That’s why it is important to engage with the public and create awareness on street dogs.”
Another major fear is dog bite cases, which renders people to fear stray dogs. According to the BBMP, 1.75 lakh cases of dog bites have been reported in Bengaluru in the last 9 years and 27,464 cases of dog bites were reported in 2018. The number was higher in Chennai where 57,000 cases of dog bites were reported in the same year.
“There is an inherent fear that the dogs will bite them. That’s why people want them away from their areas and constantly make calls to the civic body and ask us to take them away,” says Randeep, Special Commissioner, BBMP.
Why the police rarely file FIRs
Speaking to #KhabarLive, a Bengaluru police officer on condition of anonymity, says that most of the time, the officers in the police stations are understaffed and the manpower is generally directed towards nabbing suspects in the hundreds of cases they work on every year.
“If I had to send a police officer to investigate disappearing dogs, that means that the same officer will be burdened with work and it will be more than he or she can handle. We are also a human being, bright?” he says.
The officer, however, maintains that in cases of poisoning or brutality, where the wounds are visible on the dogs, the police do register FIRs when activists file the complaints.
“We do care about the dogs. That’s why we have asked the activists to get us some proof of the people who are relocating these dogs. If they get us a number plate or the name of the person who is driving the truck, then we can register an FIR,” he adds.
In September 2016, the Kottayam West police registered a case against 15 members of a youth wing of the Kerala Congress (Mani), who killed around 10 stray dogs, tied them to a pole and paraded in public, protesting against the problem of street dogs in the state. A case was registered under section 428 and 429 of IPC and Section 11 of Prevention of Cruelty Against Animals by Kottayam West police. The accused, however, were out on bail and the case is pending in the court.
Such cases of animal cruelty, though brought to the attention of the officials concerned, never see the light of day in terms of getting justice. According to an officer at the Kottayam West police station, “In situations where cases of animal cruelty are filed, the police register an FIR and we charge-sheet the accused. This crime file then goes to the court and that is it; we don’t know what happens next. In some cases, after the trial, the accused is either imprisoned for one to two months or even fined.”
The way forward
In 2016, Kerala made headlines across the globe for all wrong reasons – the mass killings of stray dogs in the state. Dogs were culled in groups and hung across the state. Several dog vigilante groups took the law into their hands to distribute subsidised air guns to kill all street dogs. Some even offered to give away gold coins to those who cull the strays.
However, according to Sally Varma, the number of cases of killings, poisoning and relocation have significantly reduced over the last two years in Kerala.
“People have found other issues to deal with now. There are certain cruelty cases where an aggressive street dog was beaten up or poisoned. For instance, last year, a dog that was suspected of rabies bit a lot of residents. Before the rescue team could reach the spot, the dog was beaten up so badly that it had to be euthanized,” she says.
Kerala is one of the states where Humane Society International (India) launched the Abhay Sankalp initiative, which aims to ensure peaceful coexistence between street dogs and residents. Apart from Vadodara and Dehradun, this programme has been launched in Malappuram.
According to Harini Raghavan, BBMP needs to undertake and only entertain dog bite and suspected rabies complaints. “And that turnaround time for attending rabies cases should be less than four to five hours. Today it’s the not the case. Harmless dogs are getting picked up based on baseless complaints by influential citizens. The time and resources spent on complaints could be used towards ABC. Unless BBMP does thrice the number of surgeries it does today, we would be talking in circles for an indefinite amount of time,” she says.
BBMP Special Commissioner Randeep says that the civic body has launched the Swaacha App to ensure that the dogs which are picked up under the ABC programme are not relocated.
“The app geo-locates the dogs once they are picked up. If the dogs are dropped off at any other place, then we will get an alert and action will be taken against those who violate the rules. We are working on some backend issues but this is to ensure that the strays are safe,” Randeep says.
He also says that the BBMP is planning to create awareness programmes for residents where dos and don’ts will be listed in order to prevent cruelty towards stray animals.
“Generally stray dogs get aggressive if the person comes close to their food or puppies. We will list out what a person can and cannot do when they see a stray dog. This is to ensure that residents co-exist with the dogs as opposed to being cruel to them,” he adds.
Shravan receives numerous calls from gated communities in Chennai to relocate strays on their properties. But he emphasises that relocating dogs is not a solution. “If a set of dogs are relocated, there will be a new set of dogs coming to the same locality. These dogs might not be vaccinated or could even carry rabies. So, it is always better to have a known set of dogs in a locality,” he argues.
He also points out that instead of depending on GCC officials to ensure the dogs are vaccinated, the residents can take responsibility.
“Dogs will not approach us when we go to catch the strays; they run away out of fear. We have performed surgery on almost 1,500 stray dogs for almost two years. These dogs were brought in by the residents,” he says.
Instead, Shravan, suggests, “Start feeding the pack of dogs in a designated spot on the community or neighbourhood. These dogs will then befriend the residents, making it easier to take them for vaccination. These pack of strays will also make sure outside dogs do not come into their territory.” #KhabarLive