Puppy-love and stray bites

Plagued by the strays, metro cities realise the hazard while others are yet to wake up to it

Puppy-love or Dog-bite. Both are always on the cards, depending upon one's love of the animal or bad luck. And then there is also the prospect of puppy-poo spoiling parks, roadsides and other public places. Love it or lump it, it's all part of the price we pay for pets and strays.

Some time ago there was the harrowing story of a six-year-old girl who was bitten by a pack of stray dogs in Bengaluru. Poor girl Ramya, who suffered nearly 50 bites, was playing with another friend just outside her house when the dogs set upon her. Thankfully, she was out of the hospital after a few days but will carry physical and mental scars for the rest of her life.

Yet Ramya's story is not unique or exceptional. Hundreds of children and even older people fall prey to the stray dog menace every day throughout the country, though only a small number makes the headlines. The menace is widespread and calls for a concerted effort to painstakingly tackle the problem for both human and animal species.

But let's not forget that for many, a dog is also man's best friend. As with man's world, it is a population issue in the dog world, especially in bigger cities where there is a dearth of open spaces. Both species need more living space and play area and can easily become bitterly suspicious of encroachment by the other.

A recent report about the state of play in the national capital reveals that over 7,700 cases of dog bites are reported at government facilities alone in the city, plus a sizeable number treated at private centres. As many as 15 rabies-related fatalities have been logged between June 2017 and June 2018.

Currently, Delhi has an estimated dog population of about six lakhs and rising. Some years ago a few hundred dogs were rounded up and sent by truckloads to North Eastern areas where dog meat is a delicacy. But reports of the move provoked an unfavourable reaction, forcing the authorities to consider sterilisation as the preferred solution.

Some non-government organisations (NGOs) undertook sterilisation work with mixed results but now some of the municipal corporations have decided to set up their own centres or are planning to expand their existing hospital facilities for the purpose. The South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC), for instance, has decided to set up four new dog sterilisation centres in government-run veterinary hospitals. Each new centre will be built at a cost of Rs 30 lakhs. The cost of neutering each male dog is said to be around Rs 300. The corporation hopes to sterilise 18,000 dogs per year.

Delhi is not the only metro plagued by the strays. Other metros like Mumbai too are reported to be facing the same problem. Greater Mumbai has an estimated 12 lakh stray dog population, twice the number in Delhi. Most cities, especially the smaller ones, have yet to wake up to the problem.

However, not all canine species are facing sterilisation or dog days. There are thousands who are kept in style and are living almost in the lap of luxury and whose offspring are prized, even handsomely priced, for their pedigree. They are the proverbial lucky dogs owned as pets by the rich and the famous households in metropolitan localities. They belong to India's burgeoning middle and upper classes enjoying a global lifestyle.

Luckily for the rich dogs, they are loved and paraded almost as family mascots. Their owners quite proudly flaunt them as part of their nouveau success by taking them out on walks in the evenings and mornings. The mascots are given fancy names like Jimmy, Whisky and Brandy! They are fed on fancy foods and dressed in even more fancy styles. At home, they jump on to sofas and beds and very often into the master or mistress's lap. And why not? For those lucky ones, specially dedicated servants are engaged to take them out for morning and evening walks when the sahibs and mem-sahibs themselves are busy elsewhere.

Sorry to say, this high profile upkeep, care and love fall by the wayside when the pets are taken out for their morning or evening walkies. It can be poo time, any time, anywhere. There is no stopping. It's instant plop on the road, by the roadside or on green grass. The owners or the hired servants simply walk away, leaving the mess on the site.

The scene is quite unlike that in Europe, America or other lands where the owners religiously carry a little pouch to pick up the plop and deposit it in the nearest bin. The pet is cared for like one's own child. Perhaps one day our sahibs, bibis, maliks and malkins, and their servants too, will do the needful. A fond hope for Swachch Bharat!

(The views expressed are strictly personal)

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