A month old baby sleeping next to his mother at a Rajasthan government hospital was taken away by a stray dog and mauled to death, the latest instance of a tragedy that plays out with horrific frequency in villages and towns across India.
Who is accountable? What makes stray dogs so violent and aggressive? What can be done to contain the menace? The questions played out again, almost in a loop, as police in Sirohi said the baby’s body was found outside the ward, his father spoke of the mother waking up to see dogs mauling her child and CCTV footage showed canines entering the premises in the dead of the night Monday.
The debate over stray dogs was back on centrestage, nine days after a four-year-old child in Hyderabad was dragged by a pack of stray dogs in a deserted street.
There was CCTV footage there too. As dogs exited the frame of the chilling video, the last moments of the child, who suffered serious injuries in the attack and was declared dead in hospital, were circulated widely on social media platforms.
“A free roaming dog is always a threat, more so to small children who can’t defend themselves. Either that or remove all stray dogs from residential areas, put them in a segregated uninhabited area where dog lovers can go and feed or care for them,” a furious Surekha Tripathi told PTI.
The Ghaziabad-based teacher represents one half of an increasingly polarised discourse on the issue. While some like Tripathi say canines are unpredictable and should be removed from around residential areas, animal rights experts argue that the aggression of community dogs comes from their natural sense to defend themselves, their litter or their territory, and hunger. The only long-term solution of the issue is sterilisation and vaccination. Emphasising that it is not natural behaviour for dogs to bite or attack, Ambika Shukla of People for Animals said canines can get aggressive in self defence or when they feel their litter is threatened or when they are excited during mating season.
”For people to club these and generalise these incidents to reflect on all dogs is not correct. There is a tendency to generally blow things up, take them out of context, and it has very very tragic consequences for dogs,” Shukla told PTI.
She added that failure to sterilise and vaccinate dogs, a practice that has been mandated by courts, is not a dog’s fault.
”All municipal bodies are well responsible to regularly take up these exercises but it doesn’t happen. Everywhere this programme (animal birth control) has been adopted and it is the only proven scientific way of controlling the population of strays,” she said.
According to the latest livestock census, there were 1.5 crore stray dogs in the country in 2019 with the highest number found in Uttar Pradesh at 20.59 lakh followed by Odisha at 17.34 lakh.
Geeta Seshamani, vice president of Friendicoes SECA, said a reduced number of dogs in an area has often resulted in “more placid and calm” canines as there are fewer chances of aggression over food or territory.
”Secondly, the public must feed them like humans. Hunger can drive a dog to steal food or try and get food by force. Well-fed dogs are socialised and respond with love to the kindness shown to them,” she said.
On Monday, the issue of stray dogs came up in the Gujarat High Court. Acting Chief Justice A J Desai reportedly said it was becoming difficult to take morning walks because of the stray dog menace.
The Bombay High Court also took up the issue recently. Seeking an amicable solution, it observed that stray dogs will not get aggressive if food and care is provided to them. A PETA spokesperson said an effective sterilisation programme can help prevent a proliferation of community dogs when they are surgically neutered and then returned to their home area, also vaccinated against rabies.
”Since territories are not left vacant, new dogs cannot enter. Over time, as the dogs die natural deaths, their numbers dwindle. The dog population becomes stable, non-breeding, non-aggressive and rabies-free, and it gradually decreases over time. Sterilising just one female dog can prevent thousands of births by her and her offspring and their offspring, and so on,” the spokesperson said.
It is the duty of the municipality to run an effective dog sterilisation programme under the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001, the spokesperson added.
Apart from managing the population of strays, the Centre’s Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules 2001 does little to help resolve disputes over dog bites.
To be able to better find solutions to these frequent points of conflict in urban areas, the Centre last year proposed the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2022. Once finalised, these rules will replace the existing ones framed in 2001.
According to the draft, procedures have been prescribed for the immunisation, vaccination and sterilisation of dogs. It also proposes the formation of monitoring committees that will take steps to limit the population of strays in an area through animal birth control programmes.
The incidents of stray dogs attacking and killing their victims have been many.
In October last year, for instance, a seven-month-old baby died after he was mauled by a stray in a posh gated colony in Noida.
Before that in September, a 12-year-old girl in Pathanamthitta, Kerala, died of rabies a month after being mauled by a dog. That same month, a video showing a teenage boy left with multiple injuries after being attacked by a stray was circulated widely on social media.
Pet dogs are part of the debate too.
In some incidents, pet dogs attacked passers-by. In Haryana’s Rewari town in October last year, for instance, a woman and her two children were attacked by a pit bull dog.
In another widely reported incident in November, a pet dog bit a six-year-old inside the lift of a building in Greater Noida.
To curb such incidents and resolve the ensuing conflict, the Noida Authority has mandated pet owners to register, sterilise and vaccinate their pet dogs and cats.
Gurugram’s civic body also issued a notice in November, banning 11 foreign breeds, including American pit-bull terriers, dogo argentino, and rottweilers. The three breeds are also banned by Ghaziabad Municipal Corporation.