By Dr. Kuhu Roy
The Indian Express
Sub: Opinion vs. facts regarding the Animal Birth Control Programme
This is with reference to ‘Growing stray dog problem is evidence that the sterilisation programme has failed’ published in the Indian Express on the 18th of March. There is a thin line of difference between opinions and facts, so the following needs attention to detail;
The Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme is based on scientific evidence and hence advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO) along with rabies vaccination as a method to control urban street male and female dog populations and ultimately human rabies in Asia (WHO Technical Report Series 931). The ABC programme is the bridge that brings the entire society together to not only scientifically address the issue of rabies but also to learn to live harmoniously with stray dogs as a part of the community.
Impounding and killing (sugar coated as funded facilities and humane euthanasia, respectively) is not going to wipe off the stray dogs from the community because no species even from the smallest ecological unit can be removed until and unless nature wants to, infact, it is counterproductive as it increases the population of stray dogs. The WHO has emphasized in its eighth report (Technical Report series 824) that, “There is no evidence that the removal of dogs has ever had a significant impact on dog population densities and the spread of rabies. The population turnover of dogs may be so high that even the highest recorded removal rates are easily compensated by survival rates.”
With regard to ownership, strays belong to the community and are not merely the responsibility of one individual. While the Municipal Corporations and animal welfare organizations engage in ABC, it is as much the responsibility of the community to participate in the programme because it cannot be a success until and unless the public, an important stakeholder, participates. The Hon’ble Supreme Court ruling mandates the local authorities or the State Governments to provide infrastructure to run the ABC programme.
Each and every stray dog taken for sterilisation needs to be brought back safe and sound, as their return and survival is integral to maintaining the correct dog-dog and human-dog dynamics, a must for the success of the ABC programme in the long run. Feeding of stray dogs is necessary for their easy catching for sterilisation and to curb aggression due to hunger post sterilisation.
A stray dog will seldom get involved in aggressive behaviour unless provoked or is in dire pain, injured, or sees the person as a threat towards himself/herself. It is only when a stray dog has been subjected to repeated abuse that there are likely chances that the stray dog will bite even when there is no provocation. However, stray dogs are not entitled to make sweeping generalizations like us. Then, the numbers of deaths due to rabies are probable and not definitive. There is the massive issue of dog bites from unvaccinated pets that is ignored but the collective onus falls on the strays, so the veracity of statistics is truly questionable.
While the concern for wildlife is moving, attention needs to be drawn to the fact that the ABC Programme is not implemented in a rural setting. It is as important to note that India is a major hub for wildlife trafficking and tiger poaching has witnessed a sharp increase.
In addition to the ABC programme, there is a dire need for kindness clubs and sensitization campaigns given our growing intolerance for animals with whom we share this earth. As long as we will continue to promote stray dog centred cynophobia, render non-cooperation to a Government scheme backed by evidence based science, the idea of a rabies free India will indeed be a utopian dream.
Dr. Kuhu Roy