Street dogs in Chennai
Street dogs are part of urban ecosystem of the Indian city of Chennai. Chennai's population of homeless dogs chiefly belongs to the local landrace, or the Indian pariah dog, with the remaining part of the urban population consisting of mongrels or mix-breeds due to interbreed with purebred dogs. As of 2018, free-ranging dogs in the city numbered about 185,000, in addition to around 3,000 licensed pets. Per the 2013 estimate over 5 percent of the stray dogs were infirm.
Dogs have been co-existing with humans since time immemorial. As in the rest of India, dogs have been worshiped in the city where a majority of the population followed Hinduism. One among the many reasons behind this fact is that dog is the mount of the Hindu god Bhairava.
However, beginning in 1869, the city corporation started killing dogs in order to have a check on its population. The corporation cited various reasons such as rabies, aggression and not wearing a licence-tag for the killing of dogs. The number increased rapidly from killing one dog a day on an average in 1860, to as many as 135 dogs a day by 1996.
In his paper on the origins of the Animal Birth Control-Anti-Rabies (ABC-AR) programme, Chinny Krishna, who was former chairman of Blue Cross of India (BCI) and vice-chairman of Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), revealed that by the early 1970s, the number of stray dogs killed by the city's corporation was so high that the Central Leather Research Institute started designing products such as neckties and wallets from dog skins. The killing method included administering sodium pentothal directly into their hearts, poisoning, electrocuting, clubbing to death and burying alive in pits covered with bleaching powder and pesticides.
In 1964, Blue Cross of India (BCI) suggested the city's corporation an alternate method of capturing street dogs, neutering them and administering anti-rabies vaccine before discharging them to their original location, which would both control the population and help reduce and eventually prevent human deaths due to rabies. However, as the corporation did not give heed to this alternative, BCI started working on this programme on its own. BCI began to spay and vaccinate street dogs it rescued and also persuaded pet owners and people taking care of street dogs to bring them for treatment free of cost. However, it took BCI another thirty years to persuade the corporation to consider ABC-AR as a workable alternative to catch and kill.
In 1995, the then Corporation Commissioner S. Abul Hassan agreed to let BCI carry out the ABC-AR programme in South Madras with the rider that the Commissioner would personally monitor the process and result. In 1995, even as BCI started the ABC-AR programme in South Chennai, street dogs in other parts of the city were still caught and killed. Soon, as the ABC-AR method started yielding visible results, the corporation agreed to relinquish its catch-and-kill policy and implement ABC-AR throughout the city, starting September 1996, marking the beginning of the ABC-AR programme in India.
Soon the corporations in other cities in India and around the world invited the then Chairman of BCI, Chinny Krishna, to share the expertise in international conferences in Bratislava, Cairo, Sofia, Orlando, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Bali and Chengdu and to initiate the ABC-AR programmes in their cities. In May 2013, the government of the Republic of Mauritius, which had been using catch-and-kill as the only method to control the number of stray dogs, solicited the assistance of BCI to introduce ABC-AR programme in Mauritius. K. Bogel, chief veterinarian at the Public Health Unit of the WHO in Switzerland and John Hoyt too renounced the catch-and-kill method in their report.
In 1990, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) published their "Guidelines for Dog Population Management" followed by WSPA's guidelines for "Stray Dog Control".
In 1996, People for Animals (PfA) obtained permission from the Corporation to establish an office, operation theatre and pre- and post-operative kennels in a lethal chamber run by the corporation in Pulianthope, where nearly 20,000 homeless dogs were electrocuted every year since 1932, thus putting an end to a 60-year-old killing practice and implementing the WHO-recommended animal birth control (ABC) programmes. According to PfA, around 6,000 to 7,000 dogs are neutered and immunized in this establishment every year.
The number of human deaths in Chennai due to rabies dropped from 120 in 1996 to zero in 2007. However, there a few deaths in the following years owing to less rigorous implementation of the ABC-AR programme abiding by the PCA Act (1960) and the Dog Rule Act (2001). A 2019 study conducted in Goa by the University of Edinburgh concluded that oral vaccines (vaccines hidden in food for stray dogs) help curb the spread of rabies three times more effectively than injections.
Animal Birth Control Rules
The Animal Brith Control (Dogs) Rules 2001 state that stray animals need to be sterilised and vaccinated against rabies and then should be returned to the same locality as before.
Interactions with humans
Good Samaritan work
There are numerous instances of stray dogs volunteering themselves to join the law enforcement personnel in their patrolling duty. For instance, The Times of India reported on 30 March 2008 of a stray named Julie regularly patrolling the Marina Beach along with the local police team to prevent people from swimming in the sea, which has been banned along the entire stretch of the beach, by jumping into the sea and chasing away those attempting to bathe in the waters.
Chennai is home to the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), and the city is either base to or has a branch of several animal rights organisations, including Blue Cross of India, People for Animals, and Animal Welfare & Protection Trust. Apart from organisations and charities, the city also has several individuals who take care of the street dogs, including feeding the dogs with leftovers collected from hotels and bakeries in the city.
Various non-governmental animal welfare organizations in the city have undertaken various measures to care for stray dogs and other animals on the street. For instance, since 2017, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has been distributing portable water troughs to the public free of cost, requesting the public to have them placed on the streets and filling them with water regularly for the benefit of stray dogs, cats, and cattle.
Population control and management
According to the 1996 manual survey conducted by the corporation, there were around 85,000 dogs in all the 200 divisions of the city. However, the last survey conducted through an app indicates that the population has reduced to 58,000. As of 2019, the Corporation catches about 90 to 100 dogs from the 15 zones in the city using 15 dog-catching vans, down from about 150 dogs a day in 2014. It engages about 50 dog catchers in all the zones. The animals are released back in the locality from where they are caught in a week's time after spaying/sterilising and vaccinating them in the three facilities in the city run by the Corporation, besides those of the Blue Cross and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Vepery. The Veterinary College in Vepery receives a maximum of 45 dogs and cats a month for administering population control method.
During 2010–2012, dog menace ranked sixth in the number of complaints received by the city corporation.
As in 2013, about 100 cases of dog bites were reported in the city daily. Since 2011, around 113,000 people reported dog bites, and 26 succumbed to rabies. The number of people who died of rabies was 5 in 2011-12 and 11 in 2012–13. In 2013–14, 10 people died of rabies. Number of bog bites reported was 38,454 in 2011–12, 37,937 in 2012-13 and 37,155 in 2013–14.
Corporation's proposed shelters
In 2013, the corporation toyed with the idea of setting up dog shelters to house ferocious or infirm dogs. Animal rights activists have called this proposal a jail for community dogs. While Blue Cross of India and People for Animals have been trying to convince the corporation to shelve the plan, People for Ethical Treatment of Animals held a protest at the Marina Beach on 19 January 2013. In May 2014, the corporation started enumerating stray dogs in the city.
The corporation said that work on the first dog shelter was under way in an area of 35,000 sq ft that was earmarked by the Corporation in the vicinity of Kannammapet burial ground. As many as 2,000 dogs are likely to be accommodated in the shelter and the facility will not be used to restrain dogs.
There have been continuous complaints about the mistreatment of the stray animals by the corporation pounds resulting in the involvement of the Madras High Court.
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