I’m a pretty simple person whose vocabulary and enunciation allows her only so many twists of the tongue before the brain begins to die with a whimper. Over the past couple of days, my relatively uncomplicated universe has repeatedly thrown at me words such as Dandie Dinmont, Schipperke, Coton de Tulear and Volpino Italiano. As if these weren’t enough, I have been Perro De Presa Canario-ed, Fila Brasiliero-ed, and Griffon Belge-ed till I can’t tell my little Indian Native Dog’s elbow from her tail.
What does any of this have to do with a little Indian Native Dog, you ask? These are all breeds of dogs that are on a dismal list of 64 ‘approved’ breeds that the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has named in its most recent pet dog licensing bylaw. For those who have been too busy with workplace dog tags to pay much attention to dog place law lags, here are the highlights of the BBMP’s circular on the bylaw.
Things you need to know about the civic body’s new rules:
– Pet owners within BBMP limits should obtain a license for their dog and get it renewed annually. All pet owners are required to get their dog(s) microchipped, and the veterinary officer approved by the BBMP has the right to inspect dogs anywhere, including at the owners’ homes, for the license.
– All pet owners should scoop their pup’s poop, failing which will earn them a fine of Rs 100 for the first violation and double the amount for subsequent instances.
– Apartment dwellers can have no more than one dog, and those who live in independent houses can have no more than three. Also, they can only have the 64 breeds approved by the BBMP.
– An authorised BBMP officer can capture any dog without an ear notch — required under the Animal Birth Control Programme — found straying without an owner in public. They can be kept in a shelter for up to 72 hours and returned to the owner on the payment of a Rs-450 fine. The BBMP can sell the dog in a public auction or detain it in a pound if the owner fails to claim the dog within 72 hours. If said detained dog is found to show any symptom of rabies, authorised veterinarians will euthanise it immediately.
– Detained dogs that seem to need to be observed for signs of rabies will be treated as stray dogs. They will be euthanised if the owner does not claim it within three days after the observation period (10 days) expires.
– Anyone with reason to believe that there is a dog in his/her vicinity showing symptoms of rabies should inform the BBMP’s area veterinary officer or health officer.
– Those violating the bylaws pertaining to licensing, micro-chipping and restricting the number of dogs an individual can own will be fined Rs 1,000 for the first breach and Rs 300 per day if they continue to violate the rules.
The bylaws of Bengaluru’s civic body start with perfectly logical ideas. Most of us truly welcome the move to fine those who don’t clean up after their dogs, and the ‘Aadhaarification’ of dogs through licensing seems like the natural next step for man’s best friend. From there on, the circular is a progression of madness that one just doesn’t see coming. There isn’t a single point that attempts to penalise backyard breeders or any promise to ensure an effective Animal Birth Control Programme. Instead, the bylaws effectively criminalise compassion and penalise responsible pet ownership.
Where are the shelters for these “extra” dogs?
What is more appalling is the complete lack of provisions and preparations for the consequences these bylaws are bound to have. To wit, the joint director of BBMP’s Animal Husbandry Department, Dr G Anand, has clarified on record that all apartment dwellers with more than one dog and those living in independent houses with more than three dogs will have to give away their “extra” dogs to friends or shelters. This is his ‘provision’ for the “extra” dogs.
How does one decide which is the original dog and which one’s the extra? Do we need to rate our dogs on a scale of 1 to 10 and give away the ones that score low? What are these magical shelters the joint director speaks of that have space for potentially tens of thousands of dogs that will fall under the “extra” category? As someone who volunteers with one of the largest adoption centres in Bengaluru, I can tell you that we are already running over capacity. Has the BBMP created new shelter spaces already? If so, where are they? How did the civic body arrive at the list of 64 approved breeds, a list that excludes Indian Native Dogs, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Great Danes, Dobermans, and several other popular breeds?
And what if the apartment that can have only one dog is larger than the independent house that can have three?During a panel discussion on TV9, stalwart animal welfare worker Sanjana Madappa rightly said: “I know people who have a 10,000-square-feet apartment and people who live in a one-bedroom (independent) house. Shouldn’t the criterion be one’s capability to take care of the dog as opposed to the square-footage of the house?”
While I’m on the murky subject of apartments, what of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and the Apartment Owners’ Lobby who already use threats and pressure that amounts to criminal intimidation against owners and tenants alike on the matter of pet ownership? Animal welfare workers have been inundated with phone calls from individuals whose RWAs have already started riding on the bylaw wave the BBMP has created. A circular of the Animal Welfare Board of India dated 26 February, 2016, clearly states in its ‘Guidelines for Residents’ Welfare Associations’ that even reaching a consensus on the matter cannot legally allow an RWA to ban people from living with companion animals. But the BBMP’s latest circular gives these associations yet another weapon to bully and intimidate pet owners into either moving out or giving away their dogs.
The worst of the lot
Rabies symptoms range from fever, seizures and excessive salivation to paralysis, hydrophobia and sudden aggression. Given this, is a fever enough reason to euthanise the dog? Is drooling enough reason? Or is this particular bylaw just an unabashed fix to clear the streets of unsterilised dogs, given the BBMP’s spectacular failure with the Animal Birth Control Programme in recent years?
The incredibly life-affirming thing about dooming decisions is how people rally together to stand for what is right. Soon after the bylaws were announced, animal welfare workers, dog lovers, NGOs and concerned citizens sprang into action, coming together in large numbers to put a plan in place. The ‘Not Without My Dog’ campaign focusses on quashing the cap on the number of dogs people can live with. The cap essentially paves the way for the abandonment of thousands and thousands of dogs that will be displaced from their homes. Very simply put, several of the bylaws directly violate many sections of the Indian Constitution. Here are just three:
– Article 51 (A) (g): It is the fundamental duty of every citizen of India to have compassion for all living creatures.
– Sections 428 and 429 of the Indian Penal Code: To kill or maim any animal, including stray animals, is a punishable offence.
– Sections 11 (1) (i) and 11 (1) (j) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960: Abandoning any animal for any reason can land you in prison for up to three months.
Within hours of the BBMP’s announcement, the citizens movement had put together a virtual office with more than 50 members, eight of whom are lawyers serving as advisors to the campaign. On Wednesday, the citizens met Mayor of Bengaluru Sampath Raj and the BBMP’s joint health commissioner, Sarfaraz Khan. The mayor extended his support to the movement, categorically saying that these bylaws will be held in abeyance till the expert committee meeting scheduled for 16 June. “In many apartments, people have more than one dog, and the dogs are like family members,” Mayor Raj said. “To abandon any dog is like giving away a son or daughter, which they don’t want to do. Most of the second or third pets are street dogs that have not been maintained well by the BBMP. Today, we will be withholding these bylaws until further discussion with the council.”
One large step for dogkind. For now.
Even as seasoned animal welfare workers and citizens’ representatives were meeting the powers that be, the rest of the virtual office was busy pulling out all the stops, ensuring that the #NotWithoutMyDog campaign goes viral across social media platforms. A hugely-successful ‘Tweetathon’ ensured that #NotWithoutMyDogs was the top trending hashtag in Bengaluru, with celebrities and influencers flexing their social media muscle and speaking out about our collective right to live with companion animals. We have had an exhausting but good day, but we know that the fight is far from over. We will fight this for as long as it takes because we still believe we are a compassionate city. Besides, we are pretty sure we are not letting anyone take our dogs away from us.
What’s the big deal?
A bouquet of poorly-written laws. A small army of animal lovers. A fistful of hashtags. Four-legged friends — Why does this matter and why should you care?
It matters because the bylaws are unconstitutional at best. A state government cannot and should not be allowed to go rogue and attempt to overshadow the Constitution of India. It matters because no one should be allowed to look into someone else’s house and tell them whom to live with. It matters because family means different things to different people, and all their reasons are important. Why should we care about a bunch of dogs when human beings are suffering every day? To that I’ll ask: “When and how did we decide as a species that we are more important than the rest? How do we expect to live in a balanced ecosystem that thrives, if we are all that’s left? How do you get to decide that a dog, or a bird, or a tree is less important on a planet that supports all forms of life, thriving because of and not in spite of? For dog’s sake, this isn’t an emotional matter, it’s a practical one.
On a personal note, a personal promise
I live with an old St Bernard who was rescued from being a puppy-making machine in a puppy mill. The other dogs in my pack are a young Indian Native Dog who was found in a gunny sack in a garbage heap along with her litter mates, an aged and blind Cocker Spaniel who was left to fend for himself when he was no longer a useful stud at his backyard breeder’s facility, and a little Indy who does not have the use of either of his hind legs. As per the BBMP’s list of breeds, I can’t live with any of them. None of these breeds made the cut; my entire family is illegal.
I’d love to work together with the BBMP. I’d love to believe that we can achieve this by sitting on the same side of the table. I’d love to hope I can go to sleep at a reasonable hour tomorrow and the day after and so on, knowing my family is safe, knowing I can read a book and not have to hashtag my activism till my fingers bleed. But they made this personal, so I’m unabashedly using ‘I’ and making a promise to my family: I don’t want a fight, but I’m ready. And I’m sleep-deprived, hungry, exhausted, worried and not just a little delirious. So I’m ready to Dandie Dinmont the Schipperke out of the Volpino who decides to come after my pack with a Boerboel bylaw that means Griffon to me. That’s posh-breed talk for, “you come for me and I”ll come for you”.
Follow the hashtag #NotWithoutMyDog on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Tweet your concerns to the BBMP, join forces with the campaign and fight for compassion.