It’s a dog’s life

Killing stray canines taints us all. Sterilisation is the way ahead

Written by Tara Deshpande Tennebaum | Published: February 7, 2009 11:35:51 pm

Dogs are gods anyway you spell it. And if you have a pet you know exactly what I mean. And like humans,canines are flawed. Some bark,poop inside buildings,dig mud,squabble with mates and some are friendly,wanting to play with you and your pet dogs. The ambiguous declaration by the Mumbai High Court eight weeks ago meant all these dogs could be declared nuisances and put to sleep “humanely”. Fortunately,sanity prevailed and the Supreme Court dismissed the ruling. But despite clear evidence in favour of sterilisation,this will not put an end to the forty year battle between animal lovers and the Muncipal Council of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). The argument has competing components: law,morality and public health. The Indian judiciary pronounces capital punishment only for the “worst of the worst” murderers and traitors. Yet they deem death fair punishment for ‘nuisance’ crimes by man’s best friend.

Demonstrably such rulings are a huge mistake,leading to brutal infringements in unaccountable systems like India,Puerto Rico and Armenia,where all it took was a corrupt official or a morphine shortage. Strangulation,electrocution,bludgeoning — dogs were jettisoned off trucks and bridges,confined and starved till they killed each other. It has been proven unequivocally in a MCGM circular 38755/C dated 25/3/1994 that despite mass killings during 1984-94 of 45,000 dogs annually,the population and rabies deaths only increased. Dogs have a high,multiple birth rate and spaying has greater success. WHO studies presented in the writ petitions state that sterilisation programs were implemented “unscientifically and inefficiently” by the MCGM; only four vans of which,three did not work were supplied for dog collection in the entire city of Mumbai. Of the 6 crores provided by the state for sterilisation in 2001-02 no reimbursements to NGOS were made for 6 years. Additionally,only 1.77 per cent of this allocated budget was spent by the MCGM on these programs. The MCGM opines exterminating stray dogs will turn Mumbai into Shanghai. Yah,right. Like China shall we also kill freedom and individual rights?

Rabies is a fatal,horrible disease and a rabid or hostile dog should be put to sleep. But killing all street dogs,even dogs deemed nuisances,will not end the rabies menace. Pet dogs,horses,monkeys,rats,sheep,goats,cats,bats,even humans are vectors. We need to find better ways to sterilise and track street dogs. Micro-chipping is expensive but we can cheaply maintain computer databases with descriptions,populations,locations and medical records. The government should make it mandatory for private vets with state licenses to annually neuter and vaccinate a specified number of strays,at cost. The best dog and rabies control program is when communities and neighbourhoods get involved. The MCGM has a difficult job. Running Mumbai is probably the only thing harder than living in it. So let’s help them. Get your building society or workplace to vaccinate and adopt a stray,find contacts for the local vet or NGO and report feral or injured strays. Sterilise your pets and don’t abandon them to the streets when the going’s tough. Consider adopting strays as companions for senior citizens and children. Educate yourself on how to tell if a dog is friendly or avoiding strays without cruelty. Report anyone abusing animals; that makes dogs aggressive.

The new human rabies immunisation has few side effects and better long term protection than the older vaccine. It is however,costly,in short supply and needs refrigeration. The government must find ways to procure the vaccine cheaply,make it easily available and advertise pre-exposure vaccination like they do polio or small pox,in big dog populations areas and in economically depressed localities where direct contact with vectors is harder to avoid. Let’s not strip Mumbai of what makes it great — its talent for tolerance. Victimising dogs is clearly an insincere attempt to placate citizens,furious with a complacent administration. Life in Mumbai is not easy but it shouldn’t be cheap. Let us instead show prejudice against corruption and urban poverty,ask for changes that will really make our lives better like improved waste disposal,clean water and fair housing regulation. A law we uphold that is compassionate may leave us with regret but a short sighted,inhuman law will only leave us with shame and wasted rupees.

In Indian mythology dogs are dwarpals — protectors of heaven’s gates. In this world,dogs are our fellow Mumbaikars,(friends of rich and poor alike) enriching our city and sharing our traumas. On 26/11,they were among the first to perish at the Taj and CST as they sensed intruders and sounded the alarm. Surely,now they deserve better than death from a misguided MCGM. Sterilisation will reduce their numbers more cheaply and effectively in a humane way that is worthy of our great city and of the dwarpals,who will someday let us too,pass.

The writer is an actress and author

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