Around 11 am Tuesday, Jabir Ali and around 50 other villagers return to their homes in a Sitapur village, armed with sticks and sharp weapons, and drenched in sweat. They have returned after chasing a pack of three “wild dogs” they had spotted near a mango orchard. It’s been a week since Jabir’s son, Kasim, was mauled to death in Bhagautipur village. The group claims they managed to killed one of the animals Monday. They insist the dog they killed was not a regular “stray dog”.
At a time when 18 teams deployed by the district administration as well as villagers are organising operations in Sitapur to catch stray dogs after 13 children were allegedly mauled to death, locals who claim to have witnessed some of the killlings say the animals being captured did not resemble the ones behind the attacks.
The teams deployed by the state government claim to have captured 37 stray dogs so far, claiming they were among the ones who had attacked the children. However, witnesses say they were different in “shape and behaviour”.
The deaths have occurred over the last three months, and there is a gap of at least two months between the first seven deaths and the six that took place over the last six days, say local residents.
“In shape and size, the dogs that attacked my nephew and were seen roaming around the village are different from normal street dogs. They have bigger snouts and the front half of their bodies is comparatively heavier. There is one unique thing that we noticed. Unlike regular dogs, they never bark, even when you hit them hard with a heavy object. Even if they injured badly, they can walk away,” said Sabir Ali, Kasim’s uncle.
Brijesh Kumar, 16, also part of this group, says, “I still can recall how they had attacked Kasim. He was out with his goats and 2-3 of his friends. I was going to the sugarcane field when I saw five wild dogs biting Kasim. I ran towards him with a sugarcane in my hand. While four of the dogs ran away, one stayed put with Kasim’s neck between her jaws.”
He added, “The animal would have attacked me as well, but I picked up another stick and hit the dog. It did not bark. It just growled and ran into the nearby thickets. I carried Kasim to the village. We rushed him to the hospital, but the doctors declared him dead.”
In Masoompur village, around 12 km away, Ram Kripal says the dogs that killed 7-year-old Geeta Friday morning were “bigger than normal dogs”.
Kripal had seen five of the animals surround Geeta and two other girls of her age. “They were biting the girl on her neck, thighs and stomach. They were even eating the meat while she was still alive. I am sure that if we had reached 5-10 minutes later, we would not even have found the body. Those were definitely not street dogs,” Kripal said.
In Firozpur village, 10-year-old Aman was attacked by a pack of six dogs, leaving him with critical injuries on Sunday. While he recovers at the Sitapur district hospital, his family says they have bought collars to save the stray dogs they take care of from angry locals and hired catchers. All stray dogs in the village now wear collars. In Bhagautipur, villagers have asked the district administration to provide collars for their own community dogs.
Sitapur City Magistrate Harsh Dev Pandey insists that dogs were behind the attacks, but cannot explain why the attacks had increased now. He says the 32 captured dogs have been sent to Kanha Upvan, an animal shelter in Lucknow, where tests will be conducted to determine the “change in behaviour”.
“We now believe that the problem is nearly solved as it appears that the dogs attacking the kids have been caught. Around 12 to 13 such dogs have been killed by the people of the affected villages,” he adds. A four-member team of monkey catchers has been roped in to as well to deal with the problem.