Confusion mars the efforts to tackle the stray dog menace in the city. While a section of the public supports sterilisation, another vehemently argues that killing dogs is the only way out.
THE CITY streets have literally gone to the dogs. A section of the public sees measures such as sterilisation and vaccination as the solution for stray dog menace, while another argues that killing dogs is the only way out. Both sides doggedly hold their ground.
According to a 1998 medical report by Prof. M. K. Sudarshan of the Rabies Epidemiology Unit, Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences, Bangalore, about 30,000 people die of rabies (in India) annually, and this accounts for 80 per cent of the 36,000 deaths reported officially to the World Health Organisation from around the globe. In India, nearly 96 per cent of rabies cases are attributed to bites from dogs that are mostly stray and ownerless.
As part of their effort to tackle stray dog menace, the city Corporation had decided to implement the Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme. The project, dedicated to Louis Pasteur, was expected to take off in July. This was in accordance with the Central Government directive preventing the killing of stray dogs.
"We took steps to launch the pilot project at the Veterinary Hospital, Pettah. But the local residents protested against its implementation. We have now replaced it with an Integrated Rabies Control Programme. This involves the licensing of pets and the vaccination of stray dogs," says K. C. Vikraman, Health Standing Committee chairman, Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.
Some local residents cite the proximity of the veterinary hospital to the Kanjiravilakam temple as the reason for the protest. "We don't want the sanctity of the temple to be violated," says Mani, a resident of Pettah. "The project is sure to convert the place into a waste bin," he alleges.
The Corporation authorities refute this allegation.
"Myths regarding stray dog sterilisation prevail among the public," says Attipra Asokan, Health Working Group chairman, Thiruvananthapuram Corporation.
The Corporation had reportedly set up a laboratory for the sterilisation of stray dogs at the veterinary hospital, according to the regulations of the Animal Welfare Board.
"The sterilisation is usually done on the female of the species (pan hysterectomy). All the norms stipulated by the Animal Welfare Board were followed," says L. Ravi Kumar, senior veterinary surgeon, Veterinary Hospital, Pettah.
The residents' associations in the city complain of stray dog menace, but many of them do not support the ABC programme in toto.
"According to the programme, the stray dogs, after sterilisation, will be released in their respective habitats. We don't want them back," says T. A. John, president of the Federation of Residents' Associations of Thiruvananthapuram (FRAT). He has a `lasting solution' to stray dog menace. "Kill them all," says John, who is also the president of the Trivandrum Kennel Club. "I love my labrador," he adds.
John's view is shared by most residents of the city, who find stray dogs "a potential threat to school-going kids, joggers and two-wheeler riders".
There are people who consider their pet pups gifts of God, even as they curse the stray dog.
Is it ethical to wipe out the stray dog population? Is it against the law?
Twenty-two years before he was gunned down, Mahatma Gandhi declared that duty demanded shooting stray dogs dead, whether they are rabid or not.
"It is a thousand pities that the question of stray dogs, etc assume such a monstrous proportion in this land of ahimsa..." Gandhi wrote in the Young India (dated October 21, 1926). "... It is a sin, it should be a sin, to feed stray dogs, and we should save numerous dogs if we had legislation making every stray dog liable to be shot..."
On the other hand, Maneka Gandhi, head of the People for Animals (PFA), does not approve of any cruel means to curb the stray dog menace. She disagrees with the view that strays would "eat up people or children". In most cases, she claims, the facts were found to be contrary.
The pre-Maneka solution to the menace was simple -- catch and kill the stray. The unofficial way of killing it included clubbing, electrocuting and stabbing. The official method was not the use of the gun, as the Mahatma envisaged it to be. "Usually, lethal injections are used," says P. R. Vinod Kumar, veterinary surgeon, who had worked for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals (SPCA).
"The solution is strychnine. It is cheap and available in the market. It takes at least five minutes before the dog dies. It is a painful death," he says. "The internationally recommended cuccinyl choline is not used in India, as it is expensive. Since it is a muscle relaxant, the death is painless," he adds.
The law of the country forbids any form of cruelty towards animals. "Under IPC 428 and IPC 429, killing, poisoning and maiming of an animal is punishable. The Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals Act was passed in 1960," says advocate Pramod Kumar. "But the law, by and large, has remained dysfunctional," he adds.
"Wide-ranging discussions on how to deal with the stray dog menace are imperative," says Leela Latheef, secretary of the city chapter of PFA.
Even as the stalemate continues, the truth remains that sterilisation is, by no means, an anti-rabies measure.
Mass vaccination of dogs is a solution, but it is impossible to achieve this in a country like India, experts say.
"Mass killing of dogs, too, is no solution. It has never ensured a decrease in the number of stray dogs," says Leela Latheef.
"Love for animals is justified. But it should not go overboard. Human life is more important. Till the ABC programme is implemented, the killing of stray dogs should continue, since it is suicidal to remain inactive on this issue," says M. N. Prasad, former Railway Board chairman.
The Mayor, J. Chandra, while launching the anti-rabies programme, said she had written to the Union Minister of State for Defence, O. Rajagopal, seeking to amend the law that prevents the killing of stray dogs.
Attipra Asokan elaborates the logic behind lodging such a complaint with the Defence Minister, when the better option is to write to the Urban Development Minister. "He (O. Rajgopal) was the Union Minister of State for Urban Development. He knows our problems well. Moreover, he is the only available Minister."
Not too far from the Corporation office, is Nandavanam, one of the favourite night joints of the stray dog.
A pack of dogs has just moved into their new home -- a neglected coppice by the Sree Bodheswaran Road, adjacent to the police camp.
They are unaware of the `conspiracy' that is being hatched against them. They don't even know that man considers them his best friends.
They are unaware of the truth that not every dog would have his day!
V. G. MURALIKRISHNAN
Photos: C. Ratheesh Kumar, S. Gopakumar
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