It is undeniable that Kerala has been facing the stray dog problem which needs to be dealt with at the earliest. But the suggestion of indiscriminate barbaric elimination is anything but a civilised response. What the Supreme Court decision primarily upholds is the right of the animals to live. The problem of violent and rabid creatures must be solved – but not in a savage, indiscriminate fashion. Kerala’s record of permitting and encouraging en masse attacks on stray dogs in the last few months has been deplorable and appalling – ranging from parading beaten-to-death dogs to announcing hefty monetary rewards for maximum killings. Thus making bounty hunters out of many opportunists and anti-social elements.
There is no doubt that people – especially children and the elderly – have had mauling encounters with strays that demand urgent attention. But can all be punished to death in vendetta for a few violent, possibly sick, dogs? Shouldn’t the solution attempt to strike at the root of the problem?
A false dichotomy of human versus stray dog lives has been projected in many areas, with some abetment from irresponsible reporting of attacks on humans, to generate hysteria and to take on those who have voiced against movements to mass murder strays. Here is the thing though: not all who oppose mass elimination are Maneka Gandhi or fanatic PETA activists or elite animal lovers speaking from cushy enclaves.
To some extent, the stray dog threat was inflated due to biased reports that frequently employed sensational headlines about trending stray dog attacks but failed to investigate the underlying causes which encouraged the over-breeding of these canines – urban governance issues like bad waste management and poor implementation of animal birth control measures. As Ila Ananya reported, “articles … with a suitably horror movie-like headline that begins, ‘Stray dogs on the prowl’ and … ‘Do India’s stray dogs kill more people than terror attacks’, or others that use photographs of dogs angrily baring their teeth, feed the growing panic. What we haven’t seen in such a number are reports about the government’s decision to finally implement an Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme that other states actually had many years ago.”
Animals, like any creatures, don’t ask to be brought into this world. The mass breeding of dogs is indicative of the state’s mismanagement at early stages, especially its failure at employing standard ABC methods which is the only effective way of controlling the number of stray dogs – especially as dogs are fast breeders. There is false rhetoric like that of former Thirvananthapuram District Collector Biju Prabhakaran who absurdly and vociferously advocated culling by decrying sterilisation of stray dogs, claiming that it were a move to fund the ‘anti-rabies vaccine’ pharmaceutical lobby — truly a brain-frying logic!
Naysayers might say that ABC is only effective in a long run, and they won’t be quite wrong because stray animals need shelters to get off the streets immediately. In a report by The News Minute, MG Satheesh, a professional dog-catcher from Thiruvananthapuram recommends that a permanent solution to the problem lies not in arbitrary killing, but in building shelters for strays in each ward where they can be recalled and kept under observation and sterilisation provided to them before release. In case of the violent and rabidly sick creatures, mercy-killing can be executed in a procedural manner. The state, if it chooses, can hire professionals like Satheesh to solve the stray animal problem in a humane and effective way.
It would be misleading to imagine a clean slate beginning with all stray dogs indiscriminately massacred. Any society that carries out a meaningless vendetta against defenseless creatures – even if they are dogs – cannot hope to avoid a spattering of blood on its own fabric or preserve the innocence of its children.
It is undisputed that human beings, not nature or animals, command the rules in urban settlements. While human lives will always be most important – humans too must collectively uphold their essence by not resorting to brutal and barbaric measures against fellow creatures permitted through their own activities and policies (or lack thereof).