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If we can coexist with animals, we will benefit far more than them

Each animal thinks, dreams and wants the same nurturing that we do. Let us be humane and kind to each other and the world around us. India will benefit.

Written by Maneka Gandhi |
Updated: July 31, 2020 2:57:38 pm
stray dog menace in india, humans and dogs, pet dogs, stray dogs india, stray dogs animal activists, stray dogs vaccination, maneka gandhi animal activist, Indian express column today, india coronavirus, india lockdown There is confusion on which ministry should underwrite the dog sterilisation programme — the health ministry as a health programme, the urban development ministry as a programme for cities, the animal husbandry department, or the environment ministry. (Illustration by C R Sasikumar)

Dogs and Indians were barred from entering prominent roads during the British Raj. Killing dogs was considered part of the sanitation process. This did not reduce the population of these animals before or since Independence. In 1980, a dog count estimated 8 lakh dogs in Delhi. Thousands were killed every month in a bid to rid the city of dogs. In 1987, a MCD survey revealed that the dog population was still 8 lakh. The survey also showed that the number of people bitten by dogs actually increased when more dogs were killed.

Dogs exist in developing countries because of poor solid waste disposal systems. They must be dealt with scientifically and humanely. Otherwise we will repeat the disaster of Surat in 1994 when all dogs were removed and rats took their place immediately, creating fears of plague. I remember the masks and fear across the country.

A WHO study in the 1990s showed sterilisation and vaccination was the only way to deal with street animals and the threat of rabies from them. This survey informed an order of a lower court in Delhi that asked the government to sterilise and vaccinate dogs instead of killing them.

In 2001, the Centre notified the Animal Birth Control (ABC) rules. While local bodies were asked to execute the sterilisation programme, it was expected that the Centre and state governments would extend financial assistance. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) was mandated to assist and monitor these drives.

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Unfortunately, the government made no financial provision for sterilisation. A few municipalities have implemented this programme very effectively on their own — especially in Delhi where the dog population is now under a lakh and dog bites have come down from 72,000 a year in 2000 to 12,000. The centres which issue the anti-rabies injections in Delhi will tell you that most of these bites are from foreign pet dogs who believe they should protect their owners. But Ghaziabad, Faridabad, Noida do not have any animal birth control programme and Gurgaon implements such a programme irregularly, which is a waste of money.

There is confusion on which ministry should underwrite the dog sterilisation programme — the health ministry as a health programme, the urban development ministry as a programme for cities, the animal husbandry department, or the environment ministry. The AWBI, now under the aegis of the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, has been steadily reducing its financial aid — it was only Rs 1 crore for the entire country six years ago and is today nil.

Since 2009, the high courts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh have attempted to reinstate the dog killing regime in one way or another, but such invasive actions have been stayed by the Supreme Court. The judiciary realised that governments were dragging their feet on the implementation of the ABC rules. The AWBI was, therefore, asked to draw out a detailed state-wise implementation framework and a module for carrying out high throughput surgeries for street dogs. This was issued to all states in 2016.

The streets of Delhi were full of diseased dogs till a little over a decade ago. With regular sterilisation drives conducted by the MCD, the numbers have fallen drastically and dog bites have reduced. The caregivers of street dogs have played a crucial role in befriending dogs and getting them neutered. Such interaction reduces aggression in dogs and they perceive humans as friendly and non-threatening. These caregivers get harassed over simple acts of compassion, but these are people who use their time and money to serve the community. We should be grateful to them.

Constructive measures to control the dog population need to be undertaken by the animal birth control monitoring committees in the states. Unfortunately, these committees don’t meet, they have not allocated any budget for the programme and are culpable for badly executed programmes. The Uttarakhand government has set an example by establishing Animal Birth Control Campuses with adequate hospital facilities. An evaluation of the programme after two years of operation found it extremely effective in controlling both aggression in dogs and their population. Uttar Pradesh has started a similar programme in Lucknow.

Unfortunately, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has not acted on the SC’s directive to create a scheme to support the implementation of the dog population control and rabies eradication programme. Uttarakhand’s experience shows the salience of such a programme.

The Centre has banned breeders and pet shops which sell animals without licences. This rule is not being followed but it could become a significant part of a larger solution. Adoption of Indian dogs is a healthier and more practical option. They are better suited to our environment and are intelligent and friendly. If two in every hundred people adopt an Indian dog, there will be no dogs on the roads. Till then, we need a robust spay and neuter programme and community participation to keep the street animals healthy and friendly.

Most people who complain about dogs have foreign species at home — several of them could have bought the animals illegally. They are bitten by foreign dogs but take out their anger on Indian dogs. I find this attitude elitist and bizarre. I also find the use of the word rabid inappropriate. A rabid dog loses the use of his nerves — first sight, then throat, then the legs. Such dogs do not jump about, climb over walls. Rabies is now very rare in Delhi because of the ABC programme. What the writer of a recent article in this paper (Coomi Kapoor’s ‘Gone to the dogs’, IE, July 27) probably meant was a violent foreign dog that the owner mis-trained and then set loose. The owner should be punished.

Street dogs or colony dogs do not bite wantonly. There are three reasons for them getting aggressive. One, if the female is on heat the males will break boundaries to reach her and get aggressive because they are both sexually charged and nervous.

Two, if the female has a litter, she knows most of her babies will die and her pain and anger comes out as she tries to defend them. Anyone who feeds dogs knows that five out of six puppies will die. Three, if they are constantly hit by people, dogs become very defensive. Sterilisation takes away the first two reasons and in every colony where street animals are allowed to live and let live, there is complete harmony.

Some people use their profession and power to abuse and bully harmless dog feeders who then reach out to me. They cannot bully me, so like all bullies, they back down in private and then when the opportunity arises, they use their professional clout to attack me.

I am an eight-time MP — the longest serving MP in the current Parliament. Everything I do is based on scientific studies and out of a desire to provide solutions that serve all. I do not want a Surat again. I do not want a country which encourages violence against animals because the next step will be violence against people. I certainly do not want Indian dogs replaced with inbred foreign species who also suffer a lot. If I am wrong, are all the judges in the courts also wrong? Are the animal behaviour scientists wrong?

During the lockdown, lakhs of people, especially young people, have emerged as thoughtful, generous and brave animal carers. Many of them have been subjected to irrational abuse. But we should remember that every animal carer takes care of the people in the community by feeding the dogs.

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

Animals bring happiness. The word animal comes from anima — the soul. Each animal thinks, dreams and wants the same nurturing that we do. If we can coexist with them, we will benefit far more from our interaction with them than they with us. Let us be humane and kind to each other and the world around us. India will benefit.

This article first appeared in the print edition on July 30, 2020 under the title ‘For the love of dog’. The writer is a former minister and BJP MP

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