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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 43 New Delhi October 17, 2015

Dog, man’s best friend, has turned into a problem. Others control it with laws. Why can’t we?

Monday 19 October 2015, by T J S George


We can understand the controversy over beef; it is a subject intertwined with spirituality, faith and nowadays fanatic intolerance. But dogs? In no culture is the dog an object of canonical homage. Yet dogs arouse human passions other animals don’t. Is this because they often show loyalty and intelligence that are rare in the animal kingdom? Dogs’ faithfulness to their masters is matched by the owners’ devotion to their dogs. At one end we have Queen Elizabeth proudly strolling with her pet Corgis saying: “My Corgis are family.” At the other extreme we have old men and old women in many countries who, though home-less themselves, live with a dozen, sometime two and three dozen, dogs each. Love of dogs is a great leveller.

But the romantic, man’s-best-friend image of dogs has taken a beating in recent years. In India this is the result of the stray dogs population increasing perilously. There are said to be 35 million strays in India. In Delhi there are 3.1 lakh and 500 dog-bite cases are reported every day.

These are alarming figures in a country where rules about maintaining dogs are inadequate and their enforcement incompetent. Even the owners of pets have it easy in our country because law-makers are one-sided partisans like Maneka Gandhi. For them protection of animal rights supersedes protection of human rights. Therefore they dismiss it as a minor offence if a pet does not wear a metal tag displaying its licence details; in London the owner of such a dog will have to pay a fine as high as £ 5000. In New York City owners walk their dogs with special paper bags in hand—to scoop up from the footpath their pets’ poop. Many cities have laws that hold owners accountable if their dogs’ barking creates a nuisance in public places.

The challenge posed by stray-dogs is altogether different. The compulsion to scavenge and survive on their own take many strays back to the instincts of dogs in the wild. If there is no garbage dump with enough food, a stray can run into a house and attack a child playing on the verandah. Many gruesome incidents of this kind have been reported, with photographs, in Kerala, hence the rise of public opinion in that State in favour of drastic action.

Many countries have resorted to drastic action while many others have experimented with other means. In a single incident in China recently 45,000 dogs were beaten to death. In Serbia 40,000 were killed in one go, in Rio de Janeiro 30,000. In Coimbatore two weeks ago 50 strays were found poisoned; there were 100,000 dog-bite cases in Tamil Nadu last year.

Most cities in the West strongly encourage neutering (castrating) strays with a view to reducing their numbers. Some municipalities in England add a surcharge to the licence-fee of even pet dogs that are not neutered. Jaipur is often cited as an example to follow in this regard. Beginning 1994 NGOs and local authorities joined hands for a programme to sterilise and vaccinate all bitches. As a result, officials say, the stray population came down by 28 per cent and the number of rabies cases became negligible. More than 3000 dogs are sterilised every year. The programme succeeded,

say experts, because the sterilisation was done on a large scale. “Unless 70 per cent dogs in an area are sterilised, the population will keep growing,” said the chairman of the Animal Welfare Board.

Emotionalism plays tricks with us. The latest US Agriculture Department figures show that India remains the world’s largest beef exporter (though, in America, beef includes buffalo as well). At the same time angry protests drowned the suggestion that we should develop dog farms, like poultry farms, to export dogs to China and Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Polynesia and Vietnam where the meat is prized.

That leaves Mahatma Gandhi as our court of appeal. In 1926 textile king Ambalal Sarabhai killed some 60 dogs roaming in his mill premises in Ahmedabad. In remorse he went to Gandhi who approved of his action. In repeated writings in Young India, he advocated a municipal bylaw authorising the destruction of unowned dogs. “There should be no stray dog,” he said, “even as we have no stray cattle.”

Maneka Gandhi said that the ratio of dog-bites would go up with the killing of dogs. When a police officer asked her about the scientific validity of that claim, she responded by getting angry.

Who should we follow — Maneka Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi?

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