Inefficiency of concerned civic bodies throws Srinagar and rest of Valley to dogs
This year alone, from January till date, 4149 persons were bitten by stray dogs. Despite clear cut court directions, SMC’s lousy sterilization campaign and inability to create dog-ponds has failed to control dog population scientifically.
The ever increasing population of stray dogs in Srinagar and other areas of the Valley is a great challenge the population here is face to face with. As per the data from the department of Community Medicines, Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, as many as 58,869 persons, mostly in Srinagar, have been bitten by stray dogs during the last decade — from 2011 to January 2021— in the Valley. And 4149 persons were bitten by stray dogs from January onward, this year. These figures – formulate around 15 people falling victim to the stray dogs a day – speak of the severity of the situation.
Pertinently, the stray dog population across Kashmir has been enormously growing since the animal rights organizations compelled the authorities to stop the poisoning process to kill stray dogs in 2008. However, authorities failed to adopt alternative measures to keep the stray dog population in check.
The concerned departments have failed to build the required infrastructure for the sterilization of stray dogs. For example, Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), which has only been boasting about its role, has a single sterilization center where just 15 dogs are claimed to be sterilized a day.
The official negligence and the failure to control the stray dog population have been there despite the fact that the issue is under the watch of High Court of Jammu and Kashmir. The court, on a relevant Public Interest Litigation (PIL), every now and then, seeks a report from the authorities to see the progress.
About a decade ago, ruling over a petition, the then Chief Justice F. M. Ibrahim Kalifulla had ordered the government to build dog-ponds in the outskirts of the city to shift the stray dogs there. However, authorities failed to do so. In April 2015, the court directed the government to remove all the stray dogs from Srinagar by catching them and putting them in ponds, the government again failed to follow the court orders.
These failures, believed to be caused by the negligence of the concerned officials, have been aggravating the dog menace further with each passing day. KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts and concerned people to understand the various dimensions of the problem.
We receive about four to five thousand dog bite cases in our hospital every year. Sometimes these numbers go up to six thousand annually. Even deaths occur due to dog bites, we do not have data available though. Mostly, victims are from Srinagar, and usually, most of the victims are young.
Dog menace is a grave issue. But I think SMC is doing something about it. Even we had been called for a couple of times since the new commissioner took charge there. They approached us for guidance on the sterilization of stray animals. Animal birth control is the only option to ensure the stray dog population does not grow exponentially.
Let us hope this process is started by the SMC so that the dog population gets reduced gradually subsequently the dog bite cases.
We need scientific garbage management at the place here. People should also maintain hygiene in their localities. When we throw our household waste on roads and lanes, dogs thrive on it. It is our collective responsibility to ensure garbage is not available in the open.
I have filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in J&K High Court, seeking relief to the population from stray dog menace in 2012. The case is on, and the Hon’ble court, from time to time, asks for progress reports from the government. During the past nine years, the court has passed several orders and guidelines asking authorities to ensure the stray dog population is kept under control.
However, in my view, the government is not serious to address this issue properly. Had this not been the case, we would have got rid of the problem long ago. The concerned officials have even failed to implement the court orders in this regard. Even if some work is being done in this matter, it is done in a wrong way. For example, the court asked authorities to build ponds for stray dogs at some places. They, without proper groundwork, started building a pond at Shuhama, which is a populated area. Locals of the area, as expected, took to streets objecting the project there. Since then, the government is yet to identify land to build dog ponds far from the populated areas.
I have also observed that the municipal bodies and other relevant departments lack mutual coordination. Similarly, the municipal bodies are yet to create a proper solid waste management mechanism. Dogs thrive on the garbage dumps everywhere.
To ensure an end to stray dog menace, the government needs to show some seriousness. This issue cannot be addressed without serious efforts.
We have been struggling to make authorities take effective steps to curb the dog menace for quite a long time. In 2011, a survey report from the State Health Department revealed the growing number of dog bites in the Valley and we, under the banner of Valley Citizens’ Council (VCC), started a campaign against dog menace here. To bring authorities out of slumber, we started protesting on roads. That was the time when some heart-wrenching incidents occurred due to this menace. For example, in 2011, a young boy drowned in Jhelum when a group of dogs chased him near Zaina Kadal in Srinagar. Another boy, 10 years old, was gravely injured in the Lal Bazaar area of the city when he was attacked by a group of stray dogs. The boy was so gravely injured that the doctors counted more than 100 injuries on his body. He went into coma for many days. In 2013, an infant fall prey to stray dogs in the Habak area of Srinagar.
Even these horrifying incidents failed to awaken the authorities from their slumber. I must tell you that the dog menace in Srinagar and other parts of the Valley is the result of negligence of the concerned officials. They are still negligent about this matter. Look at the downtown of the city, you will find a bunch of stray dogs in every lane of the Muhallas. People, particularly the women folk and the children are afraid to come out of the houses. Look at the figures about dog bite cases. You will understand how grave this issue is.
I cannot deny the fact that dog bite cases are occurring here. Ideally, there should not be a single dog bite incident in society. This should not happen in this century. However, saying that we have not been able to control the stray dog population in Srinagar would not be true.
We need to understand that there is a rapid multiplication of the dogs because of the natural process. There are 2–3 dog proliferation seasons in a year, and a female dog adds 5–10 pups into the population. That means if there are ten thousand breedable female dogs living at a place, they are able to add 100,000 dogs into the population every year.
With this natural dog proliferation rate, stray dogs would have been outnumbered the human population by now, if we would have done nothing to control their growth.
Soon after the 2014 floods, we got a survey done by a reputed agency Humane Society International to know the number of dogs in Srinagar city. That result made us aware that we had around 49 thousand dogs here at that time. Then we started taking measures to control their population. Had we not done so, the number of dog bite cases would have gone high. We have not been sleeping over the issue. We have been struggling very hard, with the available resources, infrastructure, and manpower, which is limited. With available infrastructure, we are able to sterilize just 15 dogs a day.
That said, we must also keep in mind that we cannot go beyond the limits of the law while dealing with the stray dog problem. In fact, we are walking on the edge of the sword, while taking the measures for the control of the dog population. As per the provisions of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act even shifting a dog from one place to other is a cognizable offense, not to speak of killing a dog. Just shifting a stray dog from one place to another can land a person in jail for two to five years.
In this situation, we are left with only two options for controlling the dog population: To minimize the availability of the garbage, and the Animal Birth Control (ABC) process.
Here, let me tell you that the most important reason for the exponential dog growth is the easy availability of food for them. For example, we get 500 metric tons of garbage from the population living under Srinagar municipal limits every day. This garbage includes 200 metric tons of non-veg waste. One lakh poultry birds are slaughtered in the city areas each day. Some of the non-veg waste becomes readily food for the stray dogs, eventually paving way for their growth.
To ensure food is not easily available to stray dogs, we are in the process of covering poultry outlets on the streets in Srinagar. Also, a door-to-door collection of garbage is being done to ensure people don’t throw the eatables on the roads. We have also closed hundreds of garbage sheds, which were open earlier.
As for the animal birth control is concerned, I have told you that we are on it. However, we are trying to raise the resources and the infrastructure. We have signed an MoU with the faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry at SKUAST-Kashmir. Our target is to sterilize 75 percent of the stray dogs in the city. For this, we will be creating three more sterilizing centers soon, and we have got rupees 5 crores sanctioned for this project. We are working on a war footing basis.
The stray dog population should not be deemed as a ‘problem’; because stray animals have been living in and around human dwellings since we started to domesticate animals. Such a shared cohabitation setup calls for an acceptance of coexistence amongst both species.
Furthermore, dog bites are an act of self-defense due to induced aggression, the cause of which is the unkind behavior of humans towards them. There are a handful of people, in any given scenario, who accept stray dogs, care for them, and feed them. The rest of the people only have hatred and scorn towards these poor animals. Being chased away, run over, killed, scalded is the common behavior stray dogs experience at the hands of humans. It makes them feel unsafe and scared, which manifests in the form of aggression towards humans. And it is typical animalistic behavior that even humans exhibit in unsafe environments.
Many times, we see mothers asking their kids to chase away a dog, who is just sitting peacefully by the curb of a road thus inculcating fear and hatred towards stray animals. From a very tender age, kids are taught that stray animals are filthy and dangerous.
This culture of tagging stray dogs as dirty and untouchable is the main reason for this human-animal disharmony.
Also, stray dogs are always scrounging for food. We waste so much food but only a few share their leftovers with them and fewer go an extra mile to feed them proper meals. They are hungry mostly; don’t even get a full stomach for days altogether. This adds to the aggression. We see people willingly feed stray dogs across other cities in the country, which eventually makes them less aggressive towards humans. But here, even such an act of kindness is looked down upon.
The need of the hour is education and awareness. To ensure a healthy human-animal dynamic in our society, we need to educate people and make them aware of how to deal with stray dogs.
I, along with other animal welfare volunteers started awareness campaigns in Srinagar prior to the lockdown. We have aggressively engaged in discussions, online campaigns, and social media before the pandemic pushed us back. There are two animal welfare NGOs, Kashmir Animal Welfare Foundation (KAWF) and Animal Rescue Kashmir (ARK) which have established a network of volunteers to ensure street animals get their share of care that has been missing till now.
The good news is, in the last 3 years we have seen a lot of locals come forward in reporting, rescuing, feeding, fostering, and adopting stray animals which clearly shows that the times are changing but without support, we won’t be able to run this revolution on a grand scale.
One scheme that needs to be worked upon diligently and followed religiously is the ABC program by Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC). Animal Birth Control is the most humane way to ensure a curb on the rising stray population which in turn reduces dog bites and stray deaths.
We need to adopt a strategic approach that ensures that both humans and animals are safe and can exercise their right to live on this planet. We also need to understand and accept stray animals as part of our habitat and start exhibiting compassion towards them. We only have one planet and it belongs to all!