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Vol. XXXI No. 9, August 16-31, 2021

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

by Padmaja Jayaraman

“There can be wild animals and pet animals. We believe there should not be the concept of street animals [in society],” observes Shravan Krishnan, an animal rights activist. He believes that the city’s stray dogs are domestic animals that deserve a place in our homes but are instead on the streets because their situation has been poorly managed.

A 2010 study of the Animal Birth Control (ABC)-Anti Rabies (AR) programme authored by Dr S. Chinny Krishna (Co-founder, Blue Cross of India) says that the Madras Corporation used to follow a ‘catch-and-kill’ strategy to control the population of stray dogs dating back to 1860. Dog bites and other public complaints provoked the Corporation to shoot the animals, which were feared to be rabid. Lethal drugs, electrocution and poison were also used to do away with stray dogs.

However, this approach failed to keep their population in check. In his study, Chinny Krishna points out that the strategy only served to improve the life expectancy of the surviving dogs by reducing the competition for resources. There are other flaws in this approach, too. “If all stray dogs were to be eliminated, there would be a huge surge in the population of rats,” points out animal rights activist Hema Kalyan. In 1964, the Blue Cross of India (BCI) proposed the Animal Birth Control programme to control stray dog populations in cities. They proposed to catch and neuter stray dogs as well as vaccinate them against rabies. However, it was only in 1996 that Chennai’s Corporation came on board with the BCI to implement the programme in the city.

Today, the Greater Chennai Corporation (GCC) runs Animal Birth Control (ABC) centres at Lloyds Road, Kannamapet and Basin Bridge Road. According to their website, the public can raise complaints about stray dogs via a toll-free number – 1913 – following which the Veterinary Assistant Surgeon of that particular zone takes action. With 42 dog-catchers and 12 dog-catching vehicles, GCC catches dogs on a daily basis, either based on regular inspections or public complaints. The dogs that are caught are taken to the ABC for sterilisation and anti-rabies vaccination. They are then released in the same area they were found in.

Although it has been 25 years since the advent of the ABC programme, Chennai’s citizens still run into stray dogs on almost every street. “It [ABC] was not done scientifically or systematically at all,” explains Shravan.

As per media reports, an inspection of the ABC centres in 2019 found that the treatment given to dogs were unsatisfactory. The reports say that the pounds were unclean and that the dogs underwent inhumane treatment during their time with the facility, from the capturing, transport and conduct of surgery to post-operative care and release. After surgery, the dogs must be hygienically isolated from potentially diseased animals, otherwise, they risk getting infected with other diseases. “When the dogs go to the ABC centres for surgeries, they come back infected with viruses like distemper,” alleges Manjula Ganesan, a 24-year-old animal rescuer.

As for the capturing of stray dogs, catching them by hand is the most humane way to take stray dogs to the ABC facility, as per the guidelines set by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI). The 2019 inspection discovered that far from observing the guidelines, the GCC team used nooses to swing the dogs by loops or chains around their legs or necks, causing stress and pain. “GCC was killing dogs until 1996. Learning to be compassionate overnight is really hard,” observes Shravan.

Madras Musings reached out to the GCC for an estimate regarding the population numbers of the city’s stray dogs, but there was no response. There seems to be no official database that tracks the data either. However, an April 2020 piece in The Quint pegs the number at a whopping 1,85,000. “An Indian dog can be in heat from the age of 6 months, and can give birth to as many as 12-13 pups. Given that they are in heat twice a year, they could have as many as 24-26 pups. Those pups, in turn, will multiply,” explains Shravan.

The failure to control the street dog population is unarguably a burden on the public. “Please bring an end to the stray dog menace in the streets of Chennai. They are multiplying exponentially, especially in Ambattur constituency where I live,” pleads a tweet that was posted in May 2021.

(To be concluded next fortnight)

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