Yet another campaign for mass slaughter of stray dogs is reportedly under way in Kerala and, this time, it is said, the plan is to extend it throughout India. According to reports, staff and students of schools are being mobilised and signatures are being collected for the elimination – in practice mass killing – of stray dogs.
Unfortunately, there has been no mentionable public protest against the campaign by animal lovers either in Kerala or elsewhere in the country, which contrasts sharply with the uproar triggered by the large scale killings of stray dogs in Bangalore and some other parts of Karnataka in 2007. This is perhaps because Karnataka had then several organisations like the Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA), Animal Rights Fund (ARF), Krupa and Karuna and a strong animal welfare movement which not only protested locally but appealed to animal activists all over India for help. Kerala has nothing comparable.
The second factor may well be the difference in the situation on the ground. In Karnataka, the uproar was so loud because the killing had started and was officially conducted. In Kerala, the killings that occur are on a much smaller scale and officials deny involvement. Besides, implicit in the campaign under way, is a demand for killing; there is no actual killing. Many seem to believe that there will be no mass killing as it would violate the law of the land. The Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules 2001 and Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Amendment Rules 2010, promulgated under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960, prohibit the killing of stray dogs. Under the Rules, stray dogs can be removed from their usual dwelling places only for neutering and vaccination against rabies and, both done, have to be released where they had been taken from. Besides, the Rules are in consonance with the method of controlling stray dog populations recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO). In its Technical Reports Series 931, the WHO’s Expert Consultation on Rabies, held in Geneva from October 5 to 8, 2004, identified three practical methods of dog populations management – “movement restriction, habitat control and reproduction control.” As stated in Guidelines for Dog Population Management, issued jointly by the WHO and World Society for the Protection of Animals in 1990, movement control meant preventing restricted or supervised dogs or family dogs from cutting lose to either mate or merge into the stray dog population. As for habitat control, each habitat has a specific carrying capacity for each species, including higher vertebrae like dogs, determined by the “availability, distribution and quality of resources (shelter, food, water) for the species concerned.” Effective removal and management of garbage, for example, would eliminate an important source of food for stray dogs. The Guidelines further state that the only way of ensuring reproduction control was a serious, nationwide implementation of the ABC programme. The Technical Report Series 931 says, “Since 1960s, ABC programmes coupled with rabies vaccination have been advocated as a method to control urban street male and female dog populations and ultimately human rabies in Asia. The rationale is to reduce the dog population turnover as well as the number of dogs susceptible to rabies and limit aspects of male dog behaviour (such as dispersal and fighting) that facilitate the spread of rabies. Culling of dogs during these programmes may be counterproductive as sterilised, vaccinated dogs may be destroyed.” Referring to killing, the Guidelines categorically state, “All too often, authorities confronted by problems caused by these [stray] dogs have turned to mass destruction in the hope of finding a quick solution. , only to discover that the destruction had to continue, year after year with no end in sight.” The Guidelinesfurther state that killing was practised in the past to a large extent “simply because knowledge of the composition and dynamics of dog population” as well as “crucial data on the density, composition and turnover of dog population” were lacking. The Guidelines emphatically add, “Removal or killing of dogs should never be considered as the most effective way of dealing with the problem of surplus dogs in a community; it has no effect on the root cause of the problem, which is the over-production of dogs.”
Experience also underlines the futility of large-scale killing. In almost all urban areas in India, regular, large-scale killing of stray dogs, from the time of the establishment of municipal bodies to the promulgation of ABC Rules, could not prevent a continued increase in their numbers. Dr JF Reese writes in Dogs and Dog Control in Developing countries, “In Delhi, a concerted effort at dog removal killed a third of the straying dogs with no reduction in dog population.” In his paper. “ABC responsible for decline in human rabies cases”, Dr Chinny Krishna, co-founder of the Blue Cross Society of India, cites the instance of the Madras Corporation’s “Catch-and-Kill” programme that started in 1860. He quotes Dr Theodore Bhaskaran, a former Post Master General of Madras (and author of Book of Indian Dogs), as stating in an article, “In 1970s, the number of stray dogs destroyed by the Corporation was so high that the Central Leather Institute, Madras, designed products – such as neckties and wallets – from dog skins.” Dr Krishna has pointed out elsewhere that the number of dogs killed by the Corporation had risen to 30,000 per year by 1995. Yet the dog population and incidence of rabies in the city continued to rise.
It has been the same experience the world over. Dr Reese writes in Dogs and Dog Control in Developing Countries, “In Hong Kong approximately 20,000 dogs were killed by the Government and another 13,000 by welfare organisations every year…with little impact on the free roaming dog population. In Equador, the elimination of 12 to 25 per cent of the dog population every year for five years did not reduce the dog population (WHO 1988). In rural Australia, a 76 per cent reduction in free roaming dog population failed to drastically reduce their population, and the number of free-roaming dogs returned to their pre-cull level within a year (Beck 2005). In Kathmandu, street dogs have been poisoned for at least 50 years with little long-term effect on the population.”
On the other hand, the ABC programme has successfully brought down dog populations wherever it has been seriously implemented. In India, Jaipur and Chennai provide good examples. The answer clearly lies in stepping up its implementation and not mass murder of stray dogs. Unfortunately, there are people who cannot recognise facts and reason. Their basic emotion is hatred born of fear whipped by frenzied, highly-exaggerated propaganda about the “deadly menace” stray dogs pose to humans. The fact is that humans pose far greater threat to fellow beings than animals, including stray dogs. Erich Fromm writes in his epic work, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, “Man’s history is a record of extraordinary destructiveness and cruelty and human aggression, it seems, far surpasses that of man’s animal ancestors, man is in contrast to most animals, a real “killer.'” The campaign for the mass slaughter of stray dogs underlines how right Fromm is.
(The writer is Consultant Editor, The Pioneer, and an author)