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Saturday, August 15, 2020

Animal Birth Control programme should be better implemented, but its criticism misses the point

Killing all dogs in an area would enable unsterilised, unvaccinated dogs to come in and the authorities will have to return to the same area to kill the new arrivals.

Written by Hiranmay Karlekar | Updated: July 31, 2020 9:21:21 am
dogs, animal birth control, animal birth control debate, dogs rabies, dog vaccination drive, who, indian express Under the ABC programme, stray dogs are picked up from an area, sterilised and vaccinated against rabies and returned to the same area. (Express Photo)

This refers to Coomi Kapoor’s article, ‘Gone to the dogs’ (IE, July 27). I am extremely sorry that Kapoor, a former colleague with whom I have always had the most cordial ties, was bitten by a dog. Some aspects of her piece, however, need to be contested.

She observes: “The ABC [Animal Birth Control] offers no scientific method for a systematic vaccination drive and stabilising the country’s canine population.” The ABC programme is the only scientific method for controlling stray dog populations. In its Technical Report Series 931, WHO’s expert consultation on Rabies, which met in October 2004, states: “Since the 1960s, Animal Birth Control programmes coupled with rabies vaccination have been advocated as a method to control urban street male and female dog populations and ultimately human rabies in Asia.”

Under the ABC programme, stray dogs are picked up from an area, sterilised and vaccinated against rabies and returned to the same area. Being territorial, they keep unsterilised and unvaccinated dogs out and the authorities can concentrate on sterilising and vaccinating in new areas until all stray dogs of a city or district are covered. Killing all dogs in an area would enable unsterilised, unvaccinated dogs to come in and the authorities will have to return to the same area to kill the new arrivals. Until the promulgation of ABC Rules, the number of stray dogs continued to increase in India despite relentless mass killing.

The ABC programme also serves to reduce cases of dog bites. Since sterilised bitches do not come on heat, dogs do not fight over them. This drastically reduces the number of instances in which a higher level of aggression leads to the biting of people. Also, since sterilised bitches do not litter, one does not witness the rise in their aggression level that occurs when they are guarding their puppies.

Feeding stray dogs is important. It helps to catch them for neutering. One needs a large number of feeding points because dogs are territorial and cannot venture out of their beats to eat. A well-fed dog is less likely to be aggressive than a hungry one.

Doubtless, the ABC programme is not being properly implemented. The fault lies with implementing arms — state governments and municipal bodies. They must be forced to provide adequate funds and administrative support — and not in defenestrating the programme itself.

Maneka Gandhi writes | For the love of dog: If we can coexist with animals, we will benefit far more than them

Kapoor writes: “According to a conservative WHO estimate, there are 20,000 annual rabies deaths in India.” WHO’s figures on rabies deaths in India are suspect. To cite an example, WHO’s World Survey of rabies No. 34 for 1998 puts the number of rabies deaths in India at 30,000. The survey’s annexure 3, had the entry “most parts” against India in the column under the heading, “Geographical distribution.” The space against India in the column under the heading “Trends” was left blank. WHO’s World Survey of Rabies No. 35 for1999 describes the geographical distribution of the incidence of rabies in India as being confined to “limited areas”. The entry in the column under the heading of “Trend” is “Decrease.” How can, in the course of one year, the incidence of rabies in the country contract from “most parts” to “limited areas”? More glaringly, the 1999 survey does not give any figure for the number of human deaths from rabies in India!

Since 2005, the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Central Bureau of Health Intelligence (CBHI) has been annually publishing a National Health Profile for the country. According to its 2018 edition, there were 97 cases of human deaths from rabies countrywide in 2017. According to the relevant preceding annual National Health Profiles, there were 86 human deaths from rabies in 2016, 113 in 2015, 125 in 2014 and 132 in 2013. Nor did the figures remotely approach 30,000 or 20,000 in earlier years. There, for example, were 386, 365 and 485 deaths from rabies in 1997, 1998 and 1999 respectively. The number was 486 in 2000 and 488 in 2001.

Under-reporting to the government cannot explain the difference between its and WHO’s figures. The Union and state governments’ health infrastructure cover the entire country. Besides cases reported to it, it cannot miss reports in the local print and electronic media, which feature rabies deaths and dog-bite cases regularly and prominently. In any case, under-reporting can by no means explain the huge difference between the government’s and the WHO’s figures.

This article first appeared in the print edition on July 31, 2020 under the title ‘Some dog facts’. The writer is a senior journalist and member, Animal Welfare Board of India.

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