With recent photographs of dozens of dead dogs who were poisoned in the state, news of a dog being hung from an electric post in Kannur to reportedly mark a death anniversary, and reports of elephants in temples who are constantly chained circulating on the internet, Kerala’s reputation in the eyes of the international public is fast changing from being thought of as a beautiful, peaceful paradise to a state that permits unimaginable cruelty to its animal inhabitants—and the Kerala government should be very concerned.
Global public opinion polls show that animal protection is important to most people. Some years ago, polling company MORI asked the British public about its views on animal protection. It found 91 per cent of British adults recognised a “moral duty” to minimize animals’ suffering. At least 90 per cent of those questioned in various Asian countries by MORI also believe that “we have a moral duty to minimise animals’ suffering as much as possible.” This year, a Gallup poll found almost a third of Americans, 32 per cent, believe animals should be given the same rights as people. Most Americans who took part in the poll relayed concern over the treatment of animals in captive conditions like circuses and zoos. It should come as no surprise, then, that they are also concerned about the poor treatment of elephants in Kerala’s temples too.
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However, many of the complaints PETA India receives about the Kerala government’s decision to kill “rabid and dangerous” stray dogs, the plight of its captive elephants and other animal protection matters come from concerned Keralites themselves. They are worried about a lack of adequate scientific approach to the stray dog population in cities throughout the state, that any dog can be arbitrarily labelled “dangerous” and killed, that sad and frustrated elephants are retaliating against their abuse (according to figures compiled by the Heritage Animal Task Force, captive elephants have killed 526 people within 15 years in Kerala alone), and about the attempt to create mass hysteria over stray dogs with the use of faulty or misrepresented figures.
Though dog bites are often cited as a justification to slaughter Kerala’s stray dogs, it seems that most dog bites may be from companion dogs, such as those who play roughly, and not from strays. For example, statistics show that stray dogs were not responsible for the majority of the bite cases reported by General Hospital Ernakulam between 1 January and 12 July 2015. Companion dogs, not strays, were reportedly the cause of 75.6 per cent of the bite cases.
— SaveKeralaDogs (@SaveKeralaDogs) August 24, 2015
A Humane Society of India official was quoted as saying, “I saw statistics which said that Thiruvananthapuram city has 40,000 dogs and at times 80,000 stray dogs. In reality there are 6000-7000 stray dogs in Trivandrum, as verified by our census.”
The Kerala government would do well to note mass-killing methods such as strychnine poisoning or electrocution, which were formerly used by many municipalities in India, are not only cruel but also ineffective, because dogs quickly repopulated areas which had been emptied. That’s why in 1990, the World Health Organisation and The World Society for the Protection of Animals (now called World Animal Protection) collaborated on the publication of “Guidelines for Dog Population Management”, which proposed a long-term method for the control of stray-dog populations by means of a methodical sterilisation program. The sterilisation method was tested and found to be successful, and sterilisation is thus now also recommended by the government advisory body Animal Welfare Board of India and required of municipalities under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001 (though this obligation has been largely ignored in Kerala so far).
Sterilised dogs are vaccinated against rabies and returned to where they were found. They are also far less likely to bite. As the Welfare of Stray Dogs explains:
Stray dogs are surgically neutered and then replaced in their own area. They are also vaccinated against rabies.
* Since territories are not left vacant, new dogs cannot enter
* Mating and breeding also cease
* With no mating or crossing of territories, dog fights reduce dramatically
* Since fighting reduces, bites to humans also become rare
* The dogs are immunised, so they do not spread rabies
* Over time, as the dogs die natural deaths, their numbers dwindle.
* The dog population becomes stable, non-breeding, non-aggressive and rabies-free, and it gradually decreases over a period of time.
Mahatma Gandhi is famously quoted as saying, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” Surely the same can be said for a state. It’s high time the Kerala government took heed of what caring people in its own state and around the world who are signing petitions, writing letters, or holding protests, are trying to tell them: that they want Kerala to be dogs’ own country too and don’t want to see Kerala’s Gods in chains.
– The author is CEO, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), India.