By Dr. Kuhu Roy & Mrs. Hansa Roy

DISCLAIMER: A unifying factor regardless of whether you love, hate or are indifferent to the stray dogs, the post will help you understand why sterilisation of the stray dogs (known as the Animal Birth Control Programme in India) is the ultimate means of ensuring peace with man’s best friend on the roads.

Based on the scientific recommendations of the World Health Organisation (WHO), The Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme is a public health programme, a Government of India policy aimed at eradication of rabies while simultaneously containing the stray dog population in a humane manner, i.e. sterilisation. The ABC programme is meant to be the bridge that brings the entire society together to harmoniously learn to live responsibly (feeding-sterilisation-vaccination-feeding) with the stray dogs as a part of the community.

Q. That brings us to the pertinent question, whose responsibility is it to ensure the sterilisation of the stray dogs?

While sterilisation of the stray dogs is the responsibility of the Municipal Corporations, Animal Welfare Organisations (AWOs), it is the Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) and the society as a whole who have to ensure the resident community dogs are sterilised and vaccinated against rabies. Stray dogs are community dogs; they belong to the community and are not merely the responsibility of one individual. That said, instead of indulging in blame game, whoever gets the first opportunity, should grab it to get the respective area/society dogs sterilised because the entire community benefits out of it. Having understood that it is our collective responsibility, let us now gain an insight into what the programme is all about and how all of us can bring back the focus to sterilisation to become a part of the solution.

FIVE STEPS TO MAKING PEACE WITH THE STRAY DOGS

STEP 1: DOMESTICATION OF STRAY DOGS THROUGH FEEDING WITH A PURPOSE AND GOOD BEHAVIOUR BY THE COMMUNITY

Domestication of the stray dogs, by means of daily active feeding (helps develop an emotional bond) and good behaviour on the part of the community, sets the ball rolling for mutual trust. It acts as a catalyst for the easy catching of the stray dogs for sterilisation. A symbiotic relationship develops that builds confidence in the dogs, even in the shyest and the supposedly aggressive ones, that we care for them and they, in turn, deliver their promise of loyalty to protect us for life – paving way for man-animal harmony and positive energy environment. Above all, no public health programme can be a success until and unless the public, an important stakeholder, participates.

However, community participation as the core component of the sterilisation programme of the stray dogs is almost missing in India from the first step itself, acting as a huge bottleneck. The community members who are already involved in the feeding of the stray dogs are usually subjected to harassment. The reason behind harassment has three root causes;

  1. Pure hatred among some sections of the society for the stray dogs that clouds the common sense to understand the science and shun the logic behind feeding and sterilisation of the stray dogs.
  2. Community members themselves inviting troubles by feeding the dogs irresponsibly.  
  3. Community members having a myopic vision focussed solely on feeding and not engaging in sterilisation of the dogs at all, draws more flak. The unsterilised dogs will keep on multiplying, male dogs will fight amongst each other during the mating season, mother dogs will become protective about their pups upon sensing harm, leading to unnecessary incidents of man-animal conflict that can actually very well be avoided through sterilisation of the dogs. Thus, feeding without a purpose has disastrous consequences; the short term brunt of which the feeders have to bear and they eventually vanish upon receiving threats and the long term consequences are borne by the stray dogs themselves, who are then either killed or dislocated.

Ignorance is not bliss. To all the above problems, there is one solution; creating awareness among all the stakeholders; the community, animal lovers in specific, civic bodies and the police about the ABC programme.

  1. Civic authorities have to reach out to the communities by means of mass idea, asking for active participation and co-operation in the sterilisation programme.
  2. Compassionate and responsible citizens are protected by law (because they render their selfless service towards man-animal harmony) under Article 51 A, Article 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India, therefore warranting action on the part of the authorities should they face harassment from nefarious elements. Harassment of the compassionate community members’ amounts to not only criminal intimidation (IPC 503), but is also considered an interference with the activities of the functioning of a Government scheme (Animal Birth Control Programme). So, instead of throwing brickbats, we need to co-operate with the feeders and be grateful, if we see the dogs around us with clipped ears, as someone took the responsibility to get them sterilised.
  3. If the community members enjoy the rights, they need to remember they also have duties; to feed responsibly, in clean bowls, not litter the area, no two pack of dogs can be fed at the same spot (will lead to dog fights), or cause any hindrance in the public activities.  
  4. Community members’ responsibilities towards the well-being of the stray dog do not end with mere feeding, but rather that is the crucial point where the welfare of the community begins in tandem with the welfare of the stray dogs. We need to shed the myopic vision focussed solely on feeding, and shift focus to FEEDING WITH A PURPOSE; for sterilisation and easing man-animal conflict.

Q. What are the other roadblocks to the animal birth control programme?

  1. Unscrupulous illegal dog breeders sell dogs like commodities and unworthy owners abandon these dogs. Sadly, many of these dogs are not even sterilised or vaccinated against rabies. The solution lies in cracking down on unscrupulous breeders and owners.
  2. Irresponsible pet owners even unethically leave their dogs on the streets to mate and the numbers increase again. This eventually adds on to the dog population on the roads. Sterilisation of the pets is as important to contain their numbers. Pet owners have to be responsible enough to not leave the pets unattended or off leash on the roads and be ethical to stop breeding on the roads. 
  3. At some places, a huge bottleneck remains as there is no funding for the programme because of which individuals who care for the stray dogs end up shelling from their own pocket.

Emergence of the INDIAN PUPPY MILL SYSTEM

Not engaging in sterilisation of the stray dogs has led to the emergence of a very cruel parallel industry, that of the Indian puppy mill system, wherein, instead of timely sterilisation, a steady supply of the pups of the stray dogs is maintained for them to be put up for adoption. Those who have genuinely worked in the area of adoption, shed their blood and sweat, know what goes behind homing one dog itself. So, by adding onto the stray dog population, we are not increasing their odds of homing. Rather, we are only increasing the number of un-homed dogs by letting them multiply, instead of engaging in their timely sterilisation. If we can spot the pups for adoption, then why not the unsterilized mother dogs and get them spayed in advance and spare them the emotional, physical and nutritional drain? Yes, the adoption of the stray dogs is to be promoted, but not at the cost of bringing more lives into existence, but by focussing on homing those who are already there and have been waiting since ages! Homing of any dog is not to be pushed by the factor of cuteness that ultimately leads to their abandonment – silent messages and trails follow about their return, then they are either tossed from one foster home to the other and eventually land up in a shelter or on the streets. The emphasis has to be on responsibility. It is a matter of lifetime commitment and equivalent to raising a human child. Also, age of the dog is no bar for their homing, so, a senior or a middle aged dog is as much worthy of a home as a pup is.

STEP 2: HUMANE CATCHING OF THE STRAY DOGS

Once the dogs have been befriended through feeding and good behaviour, it is time to call the designated animal birth control agency or contact the Municipal Corporation for details.

Q. Are all the stray dogs to be caught for sterilisation?

  1. Adult dogs; female dogs that are non-pregnant and non-lactating and male dogs are the only ones to be taken for sterilisation.
  2. Pups are not to be touched at all as their reproductive organs are not mature and neither will their immune system be able to take a sterilisation surgery.
  3. If a dog has a clipped ear, it means the dog is already sterilised and vaccinated against rabies and is therefore not to be caught.

However, the three major obstacles countered at this point are the opposition from the community members itself to send the community dogs for sterilisation;

  1. The myth that the stray dogs will perish with sterilisation. Just like tubectomy and vasectomy are human population control measures, likewise, spay/neuter is a dog population control measure too. Controlling population through sterilisation is not a means of extermination and nor does it lead to extinction of a species. In terms of conservation biology, the stray dogs are nowhere near minimum viable population.
  2. The illogical belief, “Let the mother dog have pups once atleast.” But the matter of fact is; until and unless, someone can vouch for the mother dog and her pups’ safety, protection from illness and guarantee a home and take the responsibility for their entire lifetime, such nonsensical statements do not make sense at all.
  3. Since most of the Animal Birth Control Programme goes unmonitored (most of the monitoring committees exist just on papers), some nefarious ABC agencies, have turned the ABC programme into a quietly orchestrated stray dog kill and dislocation activity. It has become a golden egg laying goose for such nefarious agencies – fudged up numbers are presented – rescued dying dogs, accident victims, old infirm dogs  – organs from all such dogs are retrieved and they are left to die. Under such unfortunate circumstances, the dogs caught perish. This reaffirms the faith of the community that the vans that come for the pick- up of the dogs are actually never going to bring the dogs back. That is the primary driving factor behind community refraining from sending their dogs for sterilisation, as they have lost faith in the system of the Animal Birth Control. So, the ABC agencies who are actually doing exemplary ABC Programme are looked down upon with the same eyes. It creates a hindrance in their good work as the community stops co-operating from sending their dogs. The solution lies in blacklisting the nefarious agencies that destroy the image of the scientifically sound Animal Birth Control Programme.

Q. Why is it necessary to target 100% sterilisation in an area and how can community participation help achieve that?

Say, for instance, the authorised van for the pick-up of yet to be sterilised dogs came in locality X and caught 7 out of 10 dogs. The 3 dogs who were left behind, will mate and deliver in the next season. The number of yet to be sterilised dogs will be back to square one in less than a year’s time. That is where the role of the community comes in, to ensure no resident dog is left unsterilized. Roping in key informants, people who are familiar with the local dogs, helps to ensure all the dogs are sterilised. The key informants can also be used to spread awareness about animal birth control and the need for ABC.

Q. What is meant by humane catching?

Dogs have to be caught in a humane manner, any sort of coercion is not to be resorted to because the dogs may panic, get injured or escape catching or may even become aggressive to defend themselves. The most humane method of catching is to lift the dog on the lap and carefully place him/her in the van. Once caught, the dogs are to be tagged immediately.

Q. Why is it important to tag the dogs immediately after catching?

Tagging of the dogs involves making a note of colour, gender, tentative age, unique features, precise location in the record book, accompanied ideally with a photograph and immediate assignment of a unique ID to tag the dog, by the agency involved in ABC, and a note of which should also be maintained by the community sending their dogs. This is a crucial step as tagging ensures that the dogs caught from one spot are precisely brought and dropped back at the same location they were picked up from. Some organisations fail at this very step – they tag the dogs while offloading them from the van and end up making major disasters as the catchers memory cannot be a substitute to tagging on the spot and that is what leads to wrong drop offs, ramifications of which have been elaborated in step 4.  

STEP 3: STAY AT THE ANIMAL BIRTH CONTROL UNIT

The stay at the ABC unit is entirely the responsibility of the agency conducting animal birth control and that of the respective Municipal Corporation. There has to be humane handling of the stray dogs at each point. The authorities have to ensure;

  1. The spaying of female dogs and the neutering of the male dogs has to be done only by qualified and trained veterinary doctors.
  2. The ear of the dog has to be clipped with great caution so as not to damage any blood vessel or the ear itself. Clipping is important as it helps identify dogs from a distance who have already been sterilised and vaccinated against rabies.
  3. Provide nutritious food twice daily and ensure ready availability of drinking water.
  4. Post-operative care has to involve pain killers, antibiotics and checking of the sutures.
  5. The dogs have to be kept in hygienic units during the post-op and the ABC ward has to separate from all the other wards.

Sadly, this is the point where ignorance on the part of the civic authorities and some nefarious agents with ill intent, fail the animal birth control programme the most. Sterilisation of the stray dogs is not a license to performing butchery nor are the stray dogs meant for experimentation. A badly clipped ear, no post op, swollen genitals, intestines hanging out, is a sure shot to dog mortality either at the ABC unit itself or within seven days of their release. So, while the stats for the release of funds by the Municipal Corporations; the organs and ears will show a tally with the number of dogs sterilised, the reality might be very different altogether as most of these dogs must already be dead in the absence of post op. Mortality creates vacuum in the areas the dogs were picked up from and a new pack of dogs will take over the territory in no time (law of the nature), most of these newly migrated dogs are not sterilised, so they will eventually multiply. But the fingers are pointed at the ABC programme stating the dog population is increasing despite dog sterilisation. While the truth is, when the ABC programme was not implemented in letter and spirit, but was turned into a dislocation and kill activity, then how is the ABC programme at fault? Those at fault are the ones who are implementing it wrongly. Imagine, had the same level of butchery been meted out on one of us in the name of human sterilisation, wouldn’t the agency doing the surgeries have been taken to task? Then, why are the executors with the ill intent who practice killing and dislocation of stray dogs in hundreds and thousands, instead of sterilisation are never caught? Sadly, even media fails to report the truth. THE ROOT OF THE EVIL IS THE ABSENCE OF MONITORING OF THE ABC PROGRAMME.

SOLUTION

When almost all the existing programmes have been strengthened through digitisation (to cut the red tape) and improvised monitoring, then why not the ABC programme? For bringing accountability and transparency on the part of the AWOs and respective Municipal Corporations, the ABC programme also needs to be digitised, like all public health initiatives.

Setting up of a national/state toll free number or a grievance redressal/feedback system for ABC, to share the best practices – a strategy to boost and strengthen public health programmes and success stories of the ABC, will help to further embolden effective implementation of the ABC programme.

STEP 4: RELEASE OF THE STERILISED DOGS BACK TO THEIR RESPECTIVE AREAS

To ensure the dogs are dropped back at the correction location, is where the role of timely tagging at the point of catching comes in. The community needs to be informed by the ABC agency during the release that the dogs will never multiply and never have rabies. Ensuring the presence of key informant while the dogs are being released back to their respective areas will make the concerned authority accountable to return back the dogs safe and sound. Basically, it will open the door for community monitoring of the ABC programme.

Q. But, why is it necessary to drop the dogs back to the place they were picked up from?

Newspapers and authorities stop short of answering the why, and that is where all the misunderstanding stems from. So, here is the answer. The human-dog and dog-dog dynamics are disturbed if the dogs are dropped at a wrong location that leads to multiple problems. Dogs are territorial by nature. Being dropped at some other location leads to territorial fights among the new and resident dogs, gives birth to aggression, which eventually results in accidents and even dog bites. So, it is not only the dogs, but us too, who suffer the most from wrong drop offs as the new dogs are neither familiar to us and nor are we to them.  

Also, there are those community members who do not want the dogs back or harbour the savage thought to kill or remove them. They are not only engaging themselves in an unlawful activity but also an impractical stop gap arrangement. Neither of it is going to create a dog free zone as the dogs cannot be wished away. Rather, another pack of dogs will fill up the vacuum at the same spot in no time. It is the law of the nature and none of us are above that. It is quite likely that the new dogs will not be sterilised and vaccinated against rabies. It becomes back to square one. So, it is in the best of interest of everyone that we make peace with the resident dogs, get all of them sterilised, demand they be brought safe and sound, as their return is integral to maintaining the correct dog-dog and human-dog dynamics, dog population stabilisation and become a part of the solution.

STEP 5: CONTINUING WITH FEEDING AFTER STERILISATION

Q. If the purpose behind feeding the stray dogs is to catch them for sterilisation, does it mean we stop feeding them once they are sterilised?

It is in the best of the interest of the community to continue with the feeding of the sterilised stray dogs even after sterilisation. Daily feeding, by all means, helps to prevent migration of the resident sterilised dogs in search of food, that in turn, ensures net dog population stability of an area. It is a booster shot to mutual trust and in a way, stray dogs are community adopted. Daily feeding creates a familiarity between people and the stray dogs and thus lowers the instances of man-animal conflict. The stray dogs, in return, deliver on their promise of loyalty and guard the territory by not letting any other outside dog in and help keep the anti-social elements at bay (a primary reason they bark at night and chase the rash drivers).

Q. What are the benefits of the animal birth control programme?

The stray dog population is contained, and the dog has to be allowed to live his/her remaining life span. Having the local dogs sterilised is like an insurance against rabies and unnecessary man-animal conflict. For instance, the sterilised male dogs will not engage in fights during the mating season and nor will the sterilised female dogs become aggressive in the absence of pups. That is how ABC addresses the issue of easing aggression in dogs, if any. That said, community has the responsibility to not engage in acts of provocation; like teasing the dogs, letting children bully the dogs, hitting the dogs with sticks and stones, that will ultimately give birth to aggression even in the friendliest of dogs to retaliate in self-defence.

While the stray dogs are the direct beneficiaries of the ABC programme, it is us humans, the indirect beneficiaries who reap huge dividends of community peace by engaging in sterilisation of the stray dogs.

Do you have a sterilization success story to share? Please write to us at admin@bridgingrainbows.com

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