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Vol. XXXIII No. 16, December 1-15, 2023
Last month, 28 residents in Royapuram were attacked by a rabid dog before it was beaten to death. The victims have reportedly been given medical care and administered the first dose of the human anti-rabies vaccine and immunoglobulin. The Corporation collected the addresses of all who were bitten by the animal and are now monitoring their health. They will continue to receive additional doses of the human anti-rabies vaccine to complete the course. As for the street dogs in the locality, the Corporation is observing them for indications of infection. “After the dog tested positive for rabies, we did a combing operation of the area in ward 49, ward 50 and ward 52 and have captured 83 dogs and 52 of the dogs have been under observation,” said an official to The Hindu. A similar incident surfaced earlier in August as well, with a gated community in Iyyapanthangal reporting that two residents were bitten by a rabid dog within its complex.
In both the incidents at Royapuram and Iyyapanthangal listed above, the people reportedly urged the Corporation to remove the stray dogs from their locality and relocate them. However, they were told that it was not possible and that the animals would be vaccinated and sterilised, instead. In other news reports, five cases of rabies are said to have been detected in Royapuram, Tiruvottiyur, Perungudi and Madhavaram. This rising trend in dog attacks and rabies reports has alarmed residents and activists alike, exacerbating the friction between a panicked public and community feeders who take care of the street dogs in their locality. The fear is understandable – rabies is a disease with no specific treatment and is virtually hundred per cent fatal when clinical symptoms appear. The current system is meant to eliminate the risk through regular vaccination and Animal Birth Control (ABC) measures, but implementation, many say, has been poor. Data received by activist Antony Rubin through the RTI Act – and reported by The News Minute – reveals that Tamil Nadu reported 3.6 lakh dog bite cases last year, the second highest in India just behind Maharashtra; and there has been no budget allocation for the National Rabies Control Programme from the Union Ministry to several states for the last seven years, including TN. According to Rubin, the new ABC Rules 2023 have made it tough for animal welfare organisations to support measures such as sterilisation; the need of the hour, according to him, is for the State to come up with a policy of its own. There seems to be little room for argument with his opinion, given the worsening state of affairs.
The administration has a lot of work on its hands. To begin with, the GCC does not even have a credible record of the number of stray dogs in the city – while it suggests the number to be around 93,000 based on past data, the actual figure is expected to be much higher. According to media reports, GCC Commissioner J. Radhakrishnan has promised to complete the stray dog census within a month or two. The Chennai Corporation is also rolling out measures for mass vaccination, covering roughly one lakh dogs. Seven teams have been put together for the process and volunteers have been invited to support the exercise. Each team will aim to cover 130 stray dogs on a daily basis. The anti-rabies vaccine has already been administered to hundreds of dogs at pet clinics in Thiru Vi Ka Nagar, Nungambakkam, Meenambakkam and Kannamapet.
Work is also reportedly going on to ameliorate the infrastructure necessary to carry out ABC procedures. According to an official comment to the media, the imminent modernisation of animal birth control centres in Pulianthope, Kannamapet, Lloyds Road is expected to boost the number of dogs that are sterilised from 16,000 to 26,000 per year.
It is important to note that the anti-rabies vaccine will make the dogs immune to rabies for at least one year – these vaccines do not last a lifetime. The ABC procedures must be carried out diligently on a regular basis to show results. It is not impossible, even though the scale of the problem is large; it does, however, require dedicated support in terms of resources and execution. Another component to ABC measures that the administration may consider is public awareness – aggression in stray dogs, rabid or otherwise, is made worse by hostile members of the public resorting to violent measures out of fear. Citizens need to learn to share and navigate public spaces with strays – after all, the dogs aren’t going anywhere and neither are they.