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Vol. XXXI No. 10, September 1-15, 2021

It’s a dog’s life: Chennai needs to take better care of its stray dogs

by Padmaja Jayaraman

(Continued from last fortnight)

Sterilisation remains our best hope. Apart from controlling population numbers, sterilising male dogs can alleviate aggression since there will be fewer territorial attacks and reduced competition for female dogs come mating season. Dogs older than six months are eligible for sterilisation.

Shravan believes that community-facilitated animal birth control would be a far more effective strategy than the present one. People can approach NGOs to sterilise and vaccinate the dogs. A humane way to take a street dog for sterilisation is by feeding them in designated areas and befriending them. They will slowly begin to trust the feeder, who can help the dogs to get sterilised and vaccinated. Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary (BMAD), an initiative run by Shravan, encourages community feeders to bring the dogs to the dispensary for vaccination and sterilisation. There is an option of sending ambulances as well. Depending on their affordability, people can either choose to pay or go in for sponsored surgeries. Sterilisation costs Rs. 2,500 for female dogs and Rs. 2,000 for male dogs. “The entire process will take three days. We also vaccinate the dogs against viruses like parvo, distemper, leptospirosis and rabies with a 7-in-1 vaccine that costs Rs. 400,” informs Shravan, adding that seven veterinarians are working in BMAD.

The BCI is active in this line of work, too. They sometimes team up with the GCC to sterilise captured strays. They also sterilise dogs brought to them by community feeders. During the surgery, one of the ears of the dog is tattooed to denote that it is sterile. BCI also accepts surgery sponsorships, which comes to Rs.1,900/dog. Like BMAD, the public can choose to make the payment or go for a free sterilisation.

Another key issue that requires attention is that of stray dogs getting hurt in road accidents. Some bikers complain that these dogs chase the bikes, making it hard to ride. They may be driving rashly, or the dogs may be highly territorial, and the latter can be solved by sterilisation. To report animal injuries, people may reach out to animal dispensaries. BCI and BMAD ask people to send them the injured animal’s photo and their location for them to send an ambulance. “People expect BCI to send an ambulance soon after they complain, but that is not possible, with only three ambulances present,” says TM Velu, who handles operations at the BCI. If an ambulance is taking one route, then it would attend all the cases along that route, delaying the process. “People could bring the injured animal to the shelter instead of waiting for an ambulance,” adds Velu.

Accidents are not the only way animals get hurt. There have been several cases of people torturing stray animals in the city out of mere spitefulness. In January 2021, two factory workers beat a stray dog to death in Gerugambakkam, say media reports. Such cruelty faces little to no repercussions under the law. A person committing a first-time offence under Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act will be merely fined an amount between Rs.10 to Rs. 50; a second-time offence invites a fine between Rs. 25 to Rs. 100, three months imprisonment, or both. The punishment is arguably too weak to make a difference in curtailing animal cruelty. It is high time the Act is amended to meet today’s standards.

Street animals are not the only ones who face cruelty – even those feeding them are heckled. “We fed a street dog and its three pups during the first lockdown. But the neighbours did not welcome it,” says M. Akshara, a resident of Valasaravakkam. She faced complaints that the untrained pups were urinating or defecating near the apartment building. According to an AWBI notification, feeding animals is legal. Government employees or Resident Welfare Associations cannot prohibit people from feeding animals. Animal feeders are performing their fundamental duty as per Article 51 A(g) that states, “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

But there is a catch – community feeders need to follow guidelines given by AWBI while feeding street animals. They must use hygienic feeding procedures and are obliged to clean up after the animals finish eating. The ideal time to feed is late at night or early in the morning when there is less traffic, and strays must not be fed near children’s playgrounds, densely populated areas, near their own homes and areas where people walk. These norms are to make sure the public is not disturbed. But there is no policy to reprimand feeders if these guidelines are not followed.

Policy changes must better the lives of animals and humans to coexist in the city. Recent media reports show that the unsterilised street dog population has increased up to 90% in the past two and a half years. To ramp up the sterilisation surgery capacity, GCC plans to expand the ABC centres. The revamp of ABC centres must not wind up as a dog and pony show. Earnest efforts would be appreciated. “They must include animal activists to manage the ABC centres, apart from the corporation staff,” suggests Manjula.

(Concluded)

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