Mohammad Asif, a resident of Gali Number Eight in Shanti Nagar, Manimajra, is afraid to let his children venture out of his house these days. A few days ago, an aggressive dog who went on a biting spree in the locality bit his four-year-old son Ayan, which left the family terrorised.
“I fainted when I saw doctors treating my son’s wounds. Although my son is better now, several other children in this street were attacked. I do not know who is ultimately responsible for what has happened, but how can such a thing be allowed to happen in a city like Chandigarh?” he asks.
Asif, like most other city residents these days, wants to know what went wrong, and what is the solution to the city’s stray dog menace.
Despite widespread public criticism, intervention of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, hundreds of hours of discussion on the subject in House meetings, and running a sterilisation programme for more than a decade, the Municipal Corporation has failed to tackle the menace, with the result that the population of stray dogs is growing and dog-bite cases are increasing every year.
While some say an amendment to the existing law is needed to control the stray dog population, experts insist that running an effective sterilisation programme in accordance with set guidelines is the only solution to the problem.
The MC started sterilising dogs more than a decade ago, but has failed to control the population. Mayor Poonam Sharma now wants Union Cabinet Minister Maneka Gandhi to get the law amended in order to kill ferocious dogs.
Large-scale sterilisation need of the hour
According to Maj Gen (retd) R M Kharb, chairman of the Animal Welfare Board of India, the population of stray dogs in an area will keep growing unless 70 per cent of the dogs are sterilised. In Chandigarh, however, only around 40 per cent of the dogs are estimated to be sterilised.
“Both dogs and bitches become much less aggressive after sterilisation. Also, if all dogs are vaccinated, there is no question of a dog becoming rabid. Vaccination and sterilisation go hand-in-hand. There are several cities where this model is successful,” says Kharb.
Nominated councillor Maj (retd) D S Sandhu says, “The population growth rate among dogs is exponential. All that is needed is a will to control it through birth-control measures.”
Until last year, sterilisations were done by two NGOs: SPCA and PFA. However, due to lack of infrastructure, the contract was given to a Panchkula-based government animal hospital last year. From April 6, SPCA from Udgir, Maharashtra, will be starting sterilisations. However, until now, no agency has carried out sterilisation on a large scale, and only four-five dogs a day have been sterilised by the NGOs, which is inadequate. Also, the programme is stopped during the monsoon season.
Area-wise sterilisation is required
According to sources in the MC, the corporation has never followed an area-wise approach to the solution, and only picked up dogs at random for carrying out sterilisations. Experts, however, feel that at one time, a particular area should be earmarked for neutering all dogs in that area.
Councillor Arun Sood, who was part of an MC team which visited Nashik last year to study how the problem was tackled there, says, “This system in Nashik is very well-organised. They cover one area at a time, because dogs stay in their respective territories.”
Nandini Kakkar, an SPCA member, says, “Rather than clearing an area of dogs, they should all be neutered. This is because if an area becomes dog-free, other dogs from neighbouring areas will quickly fill the vacuum. Dogs are always attracted towards urban areas due to more sources of food.”
MC officials maintain the dog-catching squad usually captures dogs from different areas based on complaints received. “While one team can concentrate on aggressive dogs regarding whom complaints are received, there should be another team focusing only on area-specific sterilisation. Also, when dogs from the same area are captured, they do not turn aggressive against each other in the hospital,” suggest experts.
Dislocation of dogs major issue here
AS per Animal Birth Control rules framed under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dogs cannot be dislocated — they have to be released at the same place where they are picked up from. “In Chandigarh, the story is different. The dog-catching van has only one cage in which several dogs are crammed. After sterilisation, they are all released in the same area. For instance, if two dogs are picked up from Sector 33 and another two from Sector 36, nobody bothers about releasing them in their own sectors. When the van reaches one of the sectors, the team opens the door and all dogs rush out. Due to this, the dogs not belonging to the area become insecure and in turn, aggressive,” says an official, requesting anonymity.
How effective the vaccination camps are
Councillors question the effectiveness of anti-rabies vaccinations for dogs run in various sectors. Councillor Sandhu says that the public is not involved when these camps are organised, and they are nothing but a farce.
Nominated councillor Surinder Bahga says, “I have written to all premier veterinary institutions in the country to seek solutions to the problem of stray dog menace. There are countries like Romania where the problem has been efficiently tackled and stray dogs are trained and then imported. Under the law, the existing mechanism should be properly implemented which is not being done in this city.”
Pet dogs population not regularised
There are currently more than 4,500 pet dogs registered with the MC under the dog by-laws while official estimates suggest that there are around 8,000 stray dogs. Around 25 per cent dog-bite cases involve pet dogs. Councillors say that dog owners who do not get their dogs immunised and registered should be fined. Neeru Sidhu, a senior SPCA member, says, “Instead of buying expensive dogs, animal lovers can adopt stray dogs living in their area after getting them neutered and vaccinated.”
Examples of success in other cities
According to Kharb, there are several cities like Chennai and Jaipur where the problem has been successfully tackled. In Jaipur, where NGO Help In Suffering started a sterilisation programme back in 1994, the number of dog-bite cases has come down substantially, and the total stray dog population has been reduced by 28 per cent.
Dr Soniya Chawan, project manager of International NGO Vets Beyond Borders, says, “Like Jaipur, mass sterilisation has been successful in Sikkim, too, where we launched our pilot project and are adequately supported by the local government.”
In 2007, a study by the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals International in 30 European countries found that several countries were particularly successful in not only controlling their stray dog population, but also having adequate laws for pets. All of them have rigid legislation, compulsory identification for pets, and adequate animal shelters.
‘NGO will do 15 sterilisations a day’
Medical officer of health P S Bhatti says that on April 6, the animal birth control programme will resume and all dogs in the city will soon be sterilised. “The NGO will have to carry out a minimum of 15 sterilisations per day and they will also have their own dog-catching squad. The MC dog-catching teams will help them,” he adds.