Checking dog populace doggedly
This weekly column is an effort on part of Kahmir Images and Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) to bring about co existence between people and animals and an effective solution to Srinagar’s street dog issue
Much has been written about the street dog issue in Srinagar. But it is very important for us to understand why street dogs exist, what problems we associate them with and what are the effective methods to eliminate these problems.
Cause of existence
Street dogs exist due to large amounts of exposed garbage which provide an abundant source of food. You would notice that cleaner areas in Srinagar would have lesser dogs than dirtier areas which have more garbage strewn around on the streets. In fact, and many people are not aware of this but, street dogs clear up a huge amount of the garbage that the civic bodies do not pick up.
Problems associated with street dogs
People also associate certain problems with street dogs. The fear of Rabies, a fatal disease which can be transmitted to humans, dog bites which mostly occur when dogs are trying to mate or fight among themselves because of which passer-bys and pedestrians in the vicinity would get bitten or when females with pups may become aggressive and bite people who approach their litters. Barking and howling is an accompaniment to dog fights which invariably take place over mating.
Doesn’t killing them or removing them help?
To eliminate the above-mentioned problems and for people to be safe, municipalities thought that killing of street dogs would be the best solution. Mass killing of dogs as a population control measure was started by the British in the 19th Century. It was continued on a large scale by the municipal authorities all over, with the aims of eradicating human rabies deaths and the stray dog population. By 1993, it was admitted to be a complete failure, since human rabies deaths did not go down but actually increased and the dog population too could not be curtailed. Imagine even after lakhs of dogs were killed over so many years they continued to be around and the problems they were blamed for were also not solved.
So why does killing of street dogs not work?
Though removal or killing of dogs seems to be the most obvious method of controlling the population, it has actually proved to be completely useless. This is because even when large numbers of dogs are killed, the conditions that sustain dog populations remain unchanged. Dogs are territorial and each one lives in its own specific area. When they are removed, the following things happen. The food source – garbage – is still available in abundance, so dogs from neighbouring areas enter the vacant territories. Pups born and growing up in the surrounding areas also move in to occupy these vacant niches. The few dogs which escape capture and remain behind, attack these newcomers, leading to frequent and prolonged dog-fights. Since they are not sterilised, all the dogs who escape capture continue to mate, leading to more fighting. In the course of fights, dogs often accidentally redirect their aggression towards people passing by, so many humans get bitten. Females with pups become aggressive and often attack pedestrians who come too close to their litter. They breed at a very high rate (two litters of pups a year). Since dogs which are removed are quickly replaced, the population does not decrease at all. The main factors leading to dog aggression – migration and mating – continue to exist. Thus, removal of dogs actually increases dog-related problems. So what is the effective solution? The effective solution would be to sterilise the dogs, vaccinate them against rabies and put them back in their own areas.
But what’s the point of putting the dogs back after sterilisation? Doesn’t the problem just continue?
No, when dogs are sterilised and put back in their own area, the population and the problems caused by dogs both reduce. Here’s how. Each dog guards its own territory and does not allow new dogs to enter. Since they are all neutered, they no longer mate or multiply. The main factors leading to dog aggression – migration and mating - are eliminated. So dog-fights reduce dramatically. With the decrease in fighting, bites to humans also decrease. Since females no longer have pups to protect, this source of dog aggression is also eliminated. Over a period of time, as the sterilised dogs die natural deaths, the population is greatly reduced.
Please remember, there is NO overnight solution to the stray dog issue. It is simply not possible to wish all the dogs away. With sterilisation, the population becomes stable, non-breeding and non-rabid and decreases over time. It also becomes largely non-aggressive. On the other hand, when dogs are removed or killed, new dogs keep entering an area and the population is continuously changing, unstable, aggressive, multiplies at a high rate and carries rabies. So what do you think – which method makes more sense?
Thus, it is important for Srinagar to have a sustained sterilization programme with more sterilization centres set up simultaneously so that maximum street dogs can be sterilized in a shorter period. It also important to spread awareness about dog-bite prevention and rabies especially amongst children so that dog bites can be reduced and rabies deaths are eliminated.
Abodh Aras is the CEO of The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD) that runs a street dog mass sterilization and immunization programme in Mumbai with an objective of reducing street dog population and eliminating human rabies deaths. WSD is one of the founding trustees of Federation Of Indian Animal Protection Organisation (FIAPO).
You can also view the article on Kashmir Images here http://epaper.dailykashmirimages.com/1862012/default.asp see page 7