Fourteen children have died in dog attacks in the district this year. People in the area believe that while dogs attacked people earlier too, something is different now.
Eight kilometers from Sitapur city is the village of Gurupliya where children have stopped going to schools or the mango fields to play. Their parents are fashioning sharp weapons out of iron and bamboo. Everyone is afraid. Their fear — hungry feral dogs.
Fourteen children have died in dog attacks this year in Sitapur. The first fatal attack was on January 21.
“That day Rahim had gone to the mango orchard about half a kilometer away. His screams alerted the villagers but it was too late,” said Sabreen, recalling the last time she saw her 12-year-old son. “When we got the body, it was terrible to look at. At many places, his flesh was missing.”
A little distance away, the family of the latest victim in the village, 12-year-old Khalid was killed on May 1, is still in tears. All the children in the family have stopped going to school. Their uncle Shakir Ali, seen with a gun in hand, is now part of the village patrol. “It all happened within 10 minutes of him leaving the house. There was no warning,” said Ali.
People in the area believe that while dogs attacked people earlier too, there was something different now.
“They are more ferocious ,” said Rahim’s uncle Irfan.
Several theories abound on why these attacks have happened.
One is the closure of slaughter houses in the area prompted by the crackdown on illegal establishments by the government last year.
“In Sitapur, all slaughterhouses have shut, bringing down the meat market with it,” said Ali.
“Bucharkhane band ho jane se bari museebat ho gayi hai. Jis janwar ko maas ki adat lag jaye woh gaon mein bhusa kha ke to rahega nahi. Pehle janwaron par hamle shuru hue aur phir bachchon par (Closure of slaughter houses has created lot of problems. Animals which are used to eating meat cannot live on hay. They first attacked animals and now they have turned to children),” said Irfan.
Government officials and experts do not contest this but added that it is just one among the many possible reasons for the attacks.
“There was a slaughterhouse in the area, which was closed last year as it was not following norms,” said S N Upadhyaya, Executive Officer, Khairabad Nagar Palika Parishad. “Shortage of meat could be one of the reasons [for the dog attacks]. This cannot be denied. But slaughterhouses were closed in other parts of the state too. The question is why so many incidents only in Khairabad? A wild breed could be behind the attacks.”
While street dogs are known to go for people’s legs when they attack, people describing the recent attacks say they were by animals that were “bigger, had more fur” and concentrated their attack on the victims’ neck — a spot preferred by wild carnivores.
Pallavi Sharma, 13, survived an attack last week. She has bite marks just below her left ear.
“I also have a pet dog and have fed many strays too,” she said. “But the ones that attacked me were nothing like them. They attacked from behind and went for my neck. When people in the area heard my screams and chased them away, I saw them – They were big, bigger than the one at home. Their fur was reddish brown.”
This has come to the attention of animal experts too.
“These are not regular street dogs,” said Wasif Jamshed, a wildlife expert camping in Sitapur for the last two weeks. “Their attack pattern suggests they could be hunting dogs that were probably brought to protect orchards and then let go as owners could not handle them or some other reason. They should not be confused with regular street dogs, which are more docile and have learnt to live with us.”
But the attacks have prompted the district administration to take on proactive measures to protect the people.
“There are many theories going round including that of slaughter houses or that of an old postmortem house, etc, but that would be taken up later on. At present, our focus is to handle the situation at hand,” said Sheetal Verma, District Magistrate, Sitapur.
At least 18 teams comprising police officers, revenue clerks, and forest guards, among others are reportedly engaged to keep vigil and catch dogs in the vulnerable areas. Animal control vans can now be seen all across the city. One worker said they had caught around 120 stray dogs in the past few days and sent them to the Kanha Upwan animal shelter in Lucknow for sterilisation.
Pallavi has now tied a blue collar around her pet dog Tyson’s neck. “It’s to tell people he is loved,” she said.