Furry matters

The growing number of stray dogs in India is a man-made problem; the solution can’t be cruelty and their culling

Furry matters

Recent videos doing the rounds on social media unveil a growing face-off between man and animal. No, it’s not related to encroachment of forest areas by human settlements but rather matters pertaining to the urban jungle. In the videos we see residents of high-rise buildings and sometimes some political figures, protest the feeding of strays. The rebuttal from animal empaths being that it’s illegal to prevent the feeding of strays. There are promises of violence not just against the dogs but also the feeders; and few incidents of targeted attacks on both feeders and canines have been reported. On the other hand, there are also reports of a growing menace of horrific attacks perpetrated or triggered by strays. All things considered, tempers and tensions are running high as India professes an increased intolerance towards street animals (dogs, not cows, donkeys, horses, or bullocks).

A two-year-old girl mauled by dogs in Delhi Tughlaq Lane, Wagh Bakri Tea Group owner Parag Desai tripped while fending off street dogs and succumbed to fatal head injuries, a two-year-old boy killed by dogs in Gujarat — the long list keeps growing, as do the number of cruelties against dogs. In January this year, six puppies were mercilessly killed in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar, in February, 20 stray dogs were shot and 5 were injured by a man in Telangana’s Mehbubnagar, a pup in Noida was thrown from a height to its death, and routinely, we discover videos of that chronicle the indescribable, heartbreaking torture of dogs. The fine for animal cruelty ranges between Rs 10 and Rs 100 only!

As a person who is a dog lover and aims to generally show kindness towards all animals, this current scenario is deeply distressing. My own pup was a desi rescue, and many friends and acquaintances have also taken care of the Indian pariah dogs in their own homes. They too are like most other purebreds, in fact, sometimes sturdier and more loving. To think that those affectionate, loyal creatures would turn into bloodthirsty monsters is unimaginable, as is the solution of culling the excess. The other cowardly acts are to starve these street dwellers or poison them. The number of people asking for their death and of those that feed them is chilling. There are reportedly 62 million stray dogs in India; will we kill them all?

There are legal cases pertaining to the strays being fought in corridors of justice as we speak. For instance, the public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Madras High Court that questions the Constitutional validity of Rule 20 of the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Rules, 2023, that places the onus of feeding community animals on RWAs (resident welfare associations) on their premises. The litigant further said that feeding of stray dogs was an “obsessive disorder” which caused an uptick in their numbers. “Today, there is a change in the behaviour of well-fed dogs. They are back to their original ‘hunting in a pack’ behaviour of wolves. When dogs are well fed, they multiply and indulge in biting, chasing vehicles, barking all night, hunting little children and the elderly,” the litigant added. Now these charges couldn’t be further from the truth. Animal behaviourists will tell you that dogs are devoted creatures governed by loyalty; they literally never bite the hand that feeds them and show unconditional love. Dogs also exult in the company of human beings — if there is aggressive behaviour at display, it could be due to several other factors such as hunger or abuse that is often man-made. Could dogs be cantankerous? Of course; aren’t all living creatures?

Removing stray dogs from a housing society is a crime and so is preventing people from feeding them. I think fear primarily dictates the behaviour and actions of dog-haters. Dogs too don’t attack to kill or maim; they attack also out of fear, wanting to survive. If we can in some way alleviate or rationalise that fear, then many would agree to co-exist with strays. The most important issue is the effective implementation of spaying campaigns. We have often seen dogs with clipped ears (a sign of being neutered by government agencies) producing babies. Some animal activists claim that there are ample rooms for scams and pocketing of government funds in the garb of sterilising or vaccinating street animals. Feeding animals doesn’t increase their numbers, reproduction does (someone should tell that litigant). We also need more people adopting rather than shopping for animals. If there can be sops for electric vehicles; why not for adopting Indies too and high taxes on buying animals? Even though more people accept desi dogs, there is still a bias. Some will love desis but still choose to buy or adopt breed dogs. Many desis are in fact, wonderful mixes having picked up genes from pedigree dogs on heat that have had their way with an Indian pariah. An open mind and a loving heart will go a long way in solving this confrontation between man and dog. Lastly, we must ask ourselves, do we want to be part of a so-called “civilised” society that promotes and normalises the killing of helpless animals? Let’s find a compassionate solution.

The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal

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