Dog Lovers, You Rock, But Feeding Strays Wrongly May ‘Bite’ Back
The issue of feeding stray dogs has emerged as a major flashpoint between residents of housing societies.
(This piece has been updated in the wake of an alleged attack on stand-up comic Raunak Rajani, who had protested lewd remarks made against his wife by a neighbour over finding a shelter for dogs in his Mumbai locality.)
Feeding stray dogs – often considered a divine act by many in India – may prove to be harmful if they are fed in an irregular manner, say animal welfare experts.
Vandana Anchalia, Founder and Director at Kannan Animal Welfare, a non-profit organisation involved in rescue and rehabilitation of dogs, says, while dogs that go unfed are generally more aggressive towards humans, feeding dogs outside someone’s house or at a common area could make them territorial, causing problems for other people.
Recently, a family of three claimed they were gheraoed in a car for over three hours by a group of angry residents in Gurugram, for feeding stray canines.
Why Should You Care?
A person may like, dislike, or be completely neutral on the subject of feeding stray dogs, but what cannot be overlooked is the safety is one’s own self and our family members. Yes, us feeding stray dogs, depending on how, when, and where they are fed, can affect one’s chances of being bitten.
Also worrying, are the increasing instances of people targeting individuals who feed stray dogs in their neighbourhood. There are several news reports about such attacks from across India.
What Happened to Rajani?
Posting pictures of his visibly scratched face on Instagram, Rajani alleged that a man in his late twenties kept "hitting his face" after pinning him to the ground, when the stand-up comic confronted him about 'lewd' remarks made against his wife.
The incident left Rajani, who says, he's been feeding dogs on "legal feeding rounds", with a broken nose and spectacles.
"I firmly yet peacefully confront him about his behaviour with my wife trying to ensure our safety henceforth. But this guy wasn’t looking to reason. He escalated in no time twisted my hand pinned me to the ground and kept hitting my face. Broke my glasses, broke my watch, broke my beautiful nose. (sic)"Raunak Rajani | Stand-Up Comic
The accused, who, Rajani says, owns a Chinese food outlet, had allegedly abused the stand-up comic's wife and brother-in-law, when they were attempting to find a rain shelter for dogs in the neighborhood a couple of days back.
"Taking advantage of my absence he makes lewd gestures at my wife and abuses her with words no one should use with a woman. And why? Because she was trying to find shade for dogs shivering in the rain (sic)," he said.
According to Rajani, an FIR has been registered at Gamdevi Police Station in Mumbai.
How Should Street Dogs Be Fed?
Anchalia says, “It is very natural for people to feed dogs, but just feeding them does not make one a responsible animal lover.” She stresses that the rules issued by the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), about feeding strays only at designated spots, should be followed. These rules were framed following a Delhi High Court judgment on the matter in 2011.
A key AWBI rule says that stray dogs must only be fed in places that are not frequented by people. In doing so, those who feed the dogs can help limit the interaction between canines and other people.
This means, dogs should not be fed on public footpaths and roads, at the entrance of homes and apartment complexes, or at playgrounds frequented by children. Instead, places such as the near the boundary walls, vacant plots, and service lanes, could be used by dog lovers to feed strays.
AWBI rules also stress that dogs should not be herded into one place for the purpose of feeding, as they are deeply territorial by nature, and would end up fighting and biting each other to get the food. This could endanger the nearby humans as well.
How To Control Cases of Dog Bites?
According to the Animal Birth Control Rules (Dog) 2005, every local authority is expected to form a monitoring committee comprising the Commissioner, health department officials, a vet, animal welfare departments and others.
This committee is responsible for the planning and management of dog control programmes, which include “catching, transportation, sheltering, sterilisation, vaccination, treatment, and release of sterilised vaccinated or treated dogs”.
However, Anjali Gopalan, founder of All Creatures Great and Small, says that in places like Gurugram, “There’s no effective animal birth control programme. In cases where the programmes were implemented, levels of corruption were high, rendering the programme ineffective.”
Need for Sterilisation
According to PETA India, if carried out effectively, spaying one female dog can prevent 67,000 births in six years. This estimate is calculated keeping in mind the birth chain that is set off once a female dog gives birth to puppies, who further gives birth to more and so on.
Khushboo Gupta, Chief Advocacy Officer at PETA India says that under an effective sterilisation programme, stray dogs are surgically neutered, vaccinated against rabies, and then placed back in their own area.
“Since territories are not left vacant, new dogs cannot enter. Mating and breeding also ceases. With no mating or crossing of territories, dog fights reduce dramatically. Since fighting reduces, bites to humans also become rare. The dogs are immunised, so they do not spread rabies. Over time, as the dogs die natural deaths, their numbers dwindle,” she says.
Towards a Solution
However, a rescue and rehabilitation worker in the National Capital Region pointed out that even though municipal corporations have teams in place, dog lovers often hesitate to get them sterilised at government facilities that are often considered ‘unhygienic’.
The only option, the rescue worker says, is to take stray canines to private vet clinics, which often charge a lot of money for sterilising and vaccinating dogs. “Hence, there’s only a limited number of dogs that we can sterilise at the end of the day at private clincs,” she says.
Moreover, at the moment, most dogs are sterilised only when residents complain about the number of dogs or when cases of a rabid dog is reported.
Although, in such cases the dogs are picked up, screened, and released in the same area following sterilisation, this entire process is limited to a specific number of dogs.
Some suggested solutions:
- Gopalan says that the first step is to stop cruelty towards animals, since dogs are most often at the receiving end of human cruelty. Once dogs are cared for, they would naturally be less violent towards humans.
- But this may still not eliminate the possibility of rabid dogs, for which a much more broad-based vaccination and sterilisation programme needs to be put into place.
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