India has a Big Stray Dogs Problem
India has a Big Stray Dogs Problem: Hello, friends! In Maharashtra’s Nagpur district, there’s the small town of Katol. A few days ago, a five-year-old boy, Viraj, went on a morning walk with his elder sister. They were a few minutes into their walk when they came across 7-8 stray dogs. And just like that, this group of dogs attacked them. Especially this young boy.
Viraj’s elder sister tried her best to protect him, but the attack was so brutal that this child lost his life. This is a painful story, but it is not new. If you try to look for such news, you’ll come across a new incident each week. A week ago, 2 children were injured in Bengaluru after being attacked by dogs.
2 weeks ago, a 9-year-old was killed in UP by stray dogs. 3 weeks ago, stray dogs killed a child in Jaipur, and the video went viral. 3 weeks ago, in Hyderabad, the police confirmed that stray dogs had killed a 12-year-old child. These stories have become so common, that this is an issue that we face in our mundane lives, even so, hardly anyone speaks up about it. People rarely try to ask why is it happening?
And what can be the solution to it? come let’s try to understand, the issue of Stray Dogs.”There are estimated to be 30 million stray dogs in India. 20,000 people a year die of rabies.””We have the municipal corporations kill them because that is the only way to bring down rabies and the stray dog population. The World Health Organisation will call them ‘free-roaming pets’.”Friends, the story about pet dogs and stray dogs began about 23,000 years ago. A study published in January 2021, by the National Academy of Sciences, states that dogs were first domesticated during the last ice age.
Then, about 23,000 years ago, the Grey Wolf was domesticated in Siberia for the first time. A kind of a wolf. It’s interesting to think about how it would have happened. Back then, humans were hunters. They hunted to survive. Had a wolf living near a human settlement gone into human territory when a human felt that the wolf should be fed, was this how it had begun? If yes, it would mean that the domestication of dogs is directly linked to Utilitarian Ethics. It means that humans strive to help. And that they started feeding the dogs because it made them feel good.
But scientists believe that the truth is contrary to this scenario. They believe that wolves, in order to scavenge for food, to look for food, the wolves entered human territory. And that was the beginning of the intermingling between humans and dogs. With time, the wolves and the dogs started helping the humans hunt. And became trustworthy companions of humans.
This is also the reason for selectively breeding dogs. Over the years, humans saw that some dogs are better suited for some particular traits. Some are good hunters. Some are good herders. And some are good guards. So humans started selectively breeding dogs, according to their traits, and that was how dog breeds came to be. The story of cats is similar to this.
Although not so ancient. The domestication of cats began about 8,000 years ago. After humans had begun farming. There was a mutually beneficial relationship here as well. The cats would find rats around the crops, in and around the fields where crops were grown, and these cats would then kill the rats for the humans. It was good for the farm as well.
But the biggest question to arise here is how did stray animals come to be?
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The dogs of various breeds, how did they become stray dogs?
To understand this, we need to first define stray animals. There can be mainly three types of stray animals or stray dogs. First: those who freely roam around and are partially dependent on humans. Where the people living around them feed them that help them survive. But they have the right to unrestricted movement. They can go anywhere they want to. No one would stop them.
Second: those who are unrestricted, and not dependent on humans. Even if humans don’t feed them, they would survive, because of the garbage dumps near them, or stealing food from dustbins, they can survive on their own.
Third: the pets who have been abandoned by their owners. Those left behind. There’s a huge difference between the second and third categories because the stray dogs of the second category are habituated to surviving on their own, ever since they’re young, they learn skills such as drinking water from puddles, looking for food in garbage dump, navigating the roads, but the pets who have been abandoned, the third category, they don’t learn these.
So when they’re actually let free, they can’t scavenge for food. They are often killed in road accidents and get diseases from drinking unclean water. According to the 2021 State of Pet Homelessness Index report, the rate of giving up pets in India is much higher than in the rest of the world. In India, more than 50% of current and previous pet owners have said that they have abandoned or given up at least one pet. This number is at 28% globally. This is why, in India, the stray dogs you see on the streets are from these three categories.
An interesting thing about the stray dog population is that there is a population limit of stray dogs in each area. It is known as the Holding Capacity. Holding Capacity means the maximum stray dog population in a particular area. There’s a maximum limit because the food, water, and territory of any area help in limiting the stray dog population in the area. It means that even if we do nothing about this problem, the stray dog population in your area would not increase beyond a limit.
The only problem is that you’d constantly see stray dogs having puppies and the puppies dying due to hunger or some disease. Stray dogs get into fights with other strays and are killed in them. And obviously the spread of deadly diseases such as rabies. Every unvaccinated dog is at risk of getting rabies. Rabies is such a deadly disease, that if you catch it, and you start seeing its symptoms, nothing can then help you stay alive. The mortality rate of this disease is almost 100%.
Do you remember when talking about COVID we were discussing the chances of dying from being infected by Covid?
It was around 0.3%, 0.5%, and even 1% at times. For rabies, the mortality rate is almost 100%. If you are infected with rabies, your death is almost sure shot. And how does rabies spread? If you are bitten by a dog infected with rabies, you will get infected too. And interestingly, when a dog is infected with rabies, it starts biting people unprovoked. Even if you don’t do anything, the dog would start biting you. If you compare the data from around the world, India witnesses the second-highest number of rabies cases, after Congo.
According to the estimates of WHO, in India, 20,000 people die each year due to rabies. If you’ve understood the cause of the problem, come let’s see the actions taken by the government regarding the stray dog problem. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), had its functioning altered in 1989. When the Minister of State for Environment, Maneka Gandhi, recommended to the then Prime Minister VP Singh that AWBI should be separated from the animal Husbandry and Dairying portfolio, the two should be detached.
And control should be given to her. The same remained in practice for years until 2019, when the Modi government 2.0 came into power, and Maneka Gandhi wasn’t given any ministry, the AWBI was then reconnected with Animal Husbandry. The purpose of AWBI is to enforce, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCAA) 1962. The purpose of this act is to protect domestic animals and to prevent abuse towards them. But with time, the AWBI started focusing on stray animals in addition to domestic animals. The AWBI coined a new term, Street Dogs.
And established a new occupation Dog Feeders. The people who feed the street dogs. They provided them with the legal right allowing them to feed the dogs. The Stray Dogs, recently, in July 2021, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the USA, stopped importing dogs from ‘high-risk countries’. And India was classified as one of the high-risk countries. The thing is that the US is concerned about rabies carried by the Indian dogs, such that if the US continues to import dogs from India, there may be a rabies outbreak in the US as well. By 2007, rabies was entirely eliminated from America. This became a significant problem for India as well because America had been one of the biggest importers from India.
So the dogs that India cannot export to America now, remain in India. But they don’t have proper living conditions in India. The question here is what is the solution to this problem? Several solutions have been discussed. Let’s see them one by one. The very first solution that comes to a person’s mind is that all these stray dogs need to be killed. This might seem like a shocking solution. But some countries have actually done it.
But it is not possible to do so in India. And obviously, as some people would say, it would be unethical to do so. It is actually illegal to do so in India. But we have seen such cases in the past where a mob of people comes together to brutally kill stray dogs or hire professional catchers to do so. In 2016, a Stray Dogs Eradication Society was formed in Kerala, They killed about 300 stray dogs in a year. But do you know what? The problem was still not solved.
There’s a simple reason for it. The gestation period in dogs and cats is mere 2 months. If a city is trying to kill all its stray dogs, that process needs to be completed within 2 months, because if isn’t the population of stray dogs is back to normal and would reach the holding capacity soon.
To find each stray dog and kill them, is a tedious and expensive job. In São Paulo, Brazil, they tried to do so but the method failed miserably. The second solution that is promoted by the WHO is related to domestication. WHO has issued several guidelines about dealing with the problem of a large population of stray dogs. The number 1 point among them is to sterilize pet dogs. They should be neutered. Not the stray dogs, the pet dogs. There are additional recommendations by WHO, such as running vaccination programs, and enforcing pet control laws, so that the people who have pets, don’t abandon them.
To prevent abandonment. In WHO’s Expert Consultation on Rabies Report 2004, 3 practical methods have been identified, to control the canine population. Movement restriction means restricting the movement of the dogs. So that the stray dogs from one area don’t wander into other areas. So that we can focus on one area at a time. An important point here is that pet owners shouldn’t abandon their dogs so that there are no new stray dogs.
Second: habitat control. The hundreds and thousands of garbage dumps that you see all across India, if they are removed, if there is cleanliness, obviously, the holding capacity of an area would be lesser. The population of stray dogs would be low because they wouldn’t have enough food options, in the form of dustbins and garbage dumps.
Third: reproduction control. And the pets need to be sterilized. It is important to emphasize the word pets, because most of the government programs that have been implemented, they focus on sterilizing stray dogs only. But if the pets aren’t neutered, the population of stray dogs would increase because many people abandon their pets and their litter.
Theoretically, an unsterilized female pet dog can lead to 78,000 puppies within 7 years. Talking about India specifically, the problem with implementing this solution in India would be that many pet owners in India can not afford to get their pets neutered. The cost of getting this done at the vet would be around ₹5,000-₹8,000. It is a high amount for some people.
Many pet owners think that their pet gives birth to a litter, they will simply throw away the poor puppies in the garbage dumps, or leave them near a restaurant. Because that is the easiest thing to do. And cheap to boot. So there is a need for sterilization drives by the government in India.
The government should raise awareness about this, and offer free sterilization of pets. Suppose this solution is successfully implemented in the country, the next question in your mind would be after sterilizing all the pets, what about the stray dogs that would still be present on the streets? Suppose we remove all garbage dumps to control the population of stray dogs, there would still be a large number of stray dogs. The next solution here would be to Re-home the stray dogs. You would’ve heard a phrase repeatedly.
Adopt Don’t Shop. It means that the stray dogs living on the streets, the homeless dogs, you should be adopting instead of buying a new dog from the pet shops. Stray dogs should be put into homeless shelters so that people can go adopt them there. Anyhow when you buy pure breed dogs at the pet shop, it isn’t a healthy practice for the dogs. In India’s hot climate, only some breeds of dogs can live here successfully. Happily, If you buy such pure breed dogs from a pet shop that are not suitable for the Indian climate, they wouldn’t be able to survive happily.
It would be difficult for them to live in this hot climate. The breed that has adapted to the Indian climate most successfully, is the one to which the stray dogs belong. This is yet another reason why you should be adopting stray dogs. Because stray dogs are more intelligent, they are already adept at navigating Indian roads, and because their ancestors have been doing so for generations, it is easier to train them. And then there’s the final solution. Vaccinating every dog. So that deadly diseases such as rabies do not spread. If you are a pet owner, you can get it done right now, go get your pets vaccinated, and get yourself vaccinated against rabies too.
You would wonder if any country has successfully implemented these solutions. Friends, the answer to this is Yes! In 2020, the Netherlands became the first country to have no stray dogs. It could be possible in the Netherlands because of the CNVR Programme. Collect, Neuter, Vaccinate, and Return. This was a government-funded sterilization program that offered free sterilization for pets. The government put stray dogs in homeless shelters, and raised taxes on store-bought dogs, Meaning that if you went to a pet shop to buy a dog, it would be quite expensive. You would have to pay a high tax. But if you adopt a dog from the homeless shelter, it would be cheaper.
So most people chose to do the latter. The second step is to get them neutered or sterilized. Take your pets to the government and get them sterilized for free at the hospitals. Third: Vaccinate. Get your dogs vaccinated so that they do not spread diseases such as rabies. And fourth was to return. Re-home. Give these dogs a new life at your home.
Finally, I’d like to quote Mahatma Gandhi. This is what he had to say about stray dogs. He said that if we truly think of the dogs as our companions, we cannot let them roam about unattended on the streets. In the same way, you wouldn’t let your companion go about the streets unsafe and helpless. If you found this article informative, please do comment.
Thank you very much!