Thick human population, poor pet culture feed Kerala’s stray dog menace

Thick human population, poor pet culture feed Kerala’s stray dog menace

The incidents of dog bites are rising at an alarming level with school-going children and senior citizens subjected to vicious attacks by stray dogs, which may end up being fatal as well

Contrary to a popular saying, it is ‘the dog biting man’ that is making news and grabbing headlines in Kerala on a daily basis. The incidents of dog bites are rising at an alarming level with school-going children and senior citizens subjected to vicious attacks by stray dogs, which may end up being fatal as well.

The government has announced a one-month-long vaccination drive for dogs starting on September 20 that will go on till October 20. Pet dogs in homes will also be included in this drive. MB Rajesh, the Kerala minister for local self-government and excise, has also announced that the government will explore all possible strategies to implement both vaccination and ABC (Animal Birth Control) programmes on a war footing.

What makes Kerala vulnerable 

There are multiple factors that make Kerala highly vulnerable to stray dog bites.

Though the Kerala government is yet to consolidate data on the total number of incidents of dog bites in the state, the death rate figures are indeed troubling. In 2022, over a period of eight months, 22 people have died of rabies. Eleven people died of stray dog bites in 2021 and five in 2020.

The government is yet to consolidate data on the total number of dog bites, according to the reply given by the government in the Assembly. On September 1, 2022, the previous minister for local self-government informed the Assembly that the concerned departments have not consolidated data on dog bites, the number of people getting injured and the number of road accidents caused due to stray dogs.  Rajesh, the present minister for local administration, has now said the process of data consolidation is still going on.

Also read: ‘Kerala has become dog’s own country’: SC takes up stray dog menace issue

The challenges facing ABC  

In 2021, the Kerala High Court imposed a stay on the transfer of funds to Kudumbashree, the women’s self-help collective, for the implementation of the animal birth control programme. Kudumbashree was the agency authorised to implement animal birth control, for catching dogs and taking them to the veterinary centres for sterilisation. In July 2021, the HC, based on a report of the amicus curiae, instructed stopping the transfer of funds to the agency, agreeing with the argument that the Kudumbasree workers are not trained for the work.

As per the ABC rules laid down by the Animal Welfare Board of India, only trained personnel should be roped in for dog catching.

“The ABC programme in the state has come to a halt by this order from the high court. This is one major reason that has led to this present day scenario,”  Rajesh told The Federal. Further, he pointed out the government has brought the issue to the Supreme Court’s notice and a decision on this matter is expected by next week.

High population density

The population density is also another key factor that plays a role in amplifying the street dog menace in Kerala, as compared to the other states. “The interaction between street dogs and people is much higher in Kerala due to the high population density level. We hardly have barren lands and the street dogs live in thickly populated areas,” explained an animal welfare department official.

According to experts The Federal talked to, only less than 30 per cent of dogs benefit from the birth control programme.

“The rules set by the Animal Welfare Board of India are very stringent. For implementing ABC, we need to have air-conditioned surgery rooms and each dog is required to be accommodated for a minimum of five days after the surgery. A centre/surgeon is permitted to perform only 10 surgeries a day. To accommodate the dogs for five days, we need a minimum of 50-60 cages. Facilitating such an infrastructure at the block/panchayat level is not easy,” said Dr R Venugopal, deputy director of Kerala animal husbandry department.

Also read: Kerala: Girl bitten by stray dog dies in hospital

Vaccination is key

Venugopal, who has 26 years of experience in handling the street dog menace, felt that vaccination is more effective and practical than ABC in Kerala.

“We have a scarcity of trained persons too. In the past, catching dogs was done in a cruel manner. Later, the law became stringent and such outdated methods vanished. Though we have a lot of volunteers to manage  critical situations such as floods or COVID, these same people cannot handle this kind of work. Catching a dog without injuring the animal requires training,” said Venugopal.

The animal husbandry department has collected the data on ‘hotspots’ or where a large number of dog bites are reported. “We have identified 170 spots across the state which reported more than 10 dog bites a month. The initial focus for vaccination, as well as ABC, will be concentrated in these hot spots,” the animal welfare department official told The Federal.

Pandemic impact: Experts

There has been an exponential rise in the number of street dogs after the COVID lockdown. “Over the last two years, the dogs have become fearless roaming around freely since they had not encountered human beings on the roads. This is one reason the dogs are attacking people,”  Venugopal told The Federal. Other factors too contributed to the unusual spurt in the street dog population, said experts.

“There has been a 20 per cent spike in street dog population. People bought pet dogs in large numbers as they were spending time mostly at home, but after COVID they have let the dogs roam free on the streets since they are not able to take care of them anymore,” added Venugopal.

The human effort involved in animal birth control is very limited compared to the sheer number of dogs multiplying on the streets. “One female dog can give birth to ten dogs in a year. The puppy becomes a mature dog in one year and starts reproducing. In such a scenario, vaccination of dogs is far more practical and effective than animal birth control,” said Venugopal.

Poor pet culture

Officials in the animal husbandry department also felt that pet culture needed to improve. The number of pet dogs that get vaccinated is less than 40 per cent. “People let pet dogs go on the streets freely. The pets, which are trained to stick to the boundaries of their home and given toilet training and proper vaccination, mostly belong to urban homes. Such dogs do not even constitute 20 per cent in Kerala,” pointed out Venugopal.

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