Of Smart City, Stray Dogs & Dog Bites
Lack of scientific intervention by concerned authorities and lake awareness among people about the basic concept of co-existence are the main reasons behind frequent dog-human conflict
On Friday evening (April 29), a group of stray dogs unleashed terror on boulevard Dalgate, a tourist place in Srinagar – Kashmir’s ‘Smart City’. The uncontrolled and aggressive dogs bit as many as 39 people including 17 tourists. All of them were immediately taken to SMHS hospital, where the doctors confirmed 39 people with dog bites. Pertinently, the area where the incident occurred remains crowded with tourists in the evenings.
The incident has brought the chronic dog menace issue in Srinagar and elsewhere, into a public debate once again.
In September, last year, ‘Kashmir Images’ came with a detailed story (Monday Read) about the dog menace, wherein we reported, with officially confirmed data, that as many as 4149 persons were bitten by stray dogs from January to September 2021. As per the official record 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 2021- in the Valley. While as the officials at the department have confirmed to ‘Kashmir Images’ that as many as 5629 people with dog bites have come to the hospital for treatment from March 2021 to April 2022.
Clearly, these figures not only speak of the severity of the situation but also confirm the inefficiency of concerned civic bodies, especially the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), which has miserably failed to curb the dog menace in the city, despite its tall claims.
Ironically, the SMC has been unable to carry forward its sterilization campaign, creating dog ponds despite the clear-cut direction from J&K High Court, which is monitoring the process while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) about the issue.
The court, on this 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 obey the court orders.
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. Ironically, 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. Worst, the authorities failed to adopt alternative measures to keep the stray dog population in check.
In the context of the recent incident at Srinagar’s boulevard road, KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some concerned officials and some experts to know the reasons for the failure on account of curbing the dog menace in the city and elsewhere.
Here are the excerpts:
As many as 39 people with dog bites came to our hospital on Friday evening. They had been attacked by stray dogs at boulevard Dalgate. Presently, all of them are being treated at our anti-rabies clinic. They have to visit the clinic for vaccination regularly for the next few days.
We receive dog bite cases almost on daily basis. As per our recorded data, we received 5629 people with dog bites last year from April 2021 to March 2022.
I usually take part in the meeting that is held to discuss the ways and means to curb the dog menace in Srinagar and elsewhere. To my understanding, sterilization of stray dogs is the only way to control the menace. But the fact is only a few dogs a day are being sterilized here. In winters, even the small process is stopped. Given the number of stray dogs here, we require to sterilize at least one thousand dogs a day to ensure all the stray dogs across the Valley are sterilized. By the time a particular number of dogs are sterilized many folds of this number of new dogs are born. That is the reason the sterilization process has failed to fetch the desired results so far.
While dealing with stray dogs, we have to follow certain guidelines and laws of the land, which neither allow us to kill nor dislocate a dog. The only available and practical way to control the population of dogs is ABC (Animal Birth Control) through the sterilization process. We have a dog sterilization unit at Shuhama, Ganderbal where the stray animals are being sterilized. Also, we are building the infrastructure at two places in the city, wherein the dog sterilization process will be started soon. This will help us to enhance our capacity by up to 200-250 dog sterilization a day (6–7 thousand a month).
Additionally, we are preparing to outsource the job of stray dog sterilization to outside agencies. Let me also tell you that we have issued tenders for dog sterilization a couple of times in the past, but nobody turned in for the task.
However, we must know that the sterilization process does not have a short time result. We have been in the sterilization process for quite a long time and it will eventually show its results in the coming years. We will see the stray dog population coming down in the near future.
Further, we are procuring 100 hoppers to ensure 100-per cent door-to-door garbage collection in the city. Since garbage dumpsters on roads and in open areas are considered one of the key reasons for the exponential growth of the stray dogs population, the foolproof collection of garbage from the doorsteps of the residents will eventually help to reduce the easy availability of food for the stray animals. Also, we are placing underground bins at 25 places in the city for treating the garbage with modern techniques.
Moreover, SMC is going to seek help from the community, NGOs, and welfare organizations to ensure the dog menace is curbed in the city. We believe the cooperation from the common people will make the process easy and successful.
The existence of stray dogs is not exclusive to Srinagar only. They are found everywhere across the world. Mostly, they manage to coexist with human populations. But in certain cases, like ours, they have become an increasing threat to the community.
Unfortunately, in our case, the problem has reached a critical point. The past efforts to tackle the problem have not seen any satisfactory outcomes. Therefore, an immediate course correction is needed at the government level, with a clear and scientific plan in hand.
Having said that, I think a significant contribution can be from the residents on individual levels in terms of taking simple steps like garbage segregation, and an effective food leftover disposal mechanism. That will help curb the menace to some extent.
At the same time, one has to be mindful of animal rights as well. Trying to eradicate the stray dog population cannot be a solution.
To conclude, I would say the citizens must take an active lead by staying vigilant and the government must come up with a tangible plan on a war footing basis to provide relief to the public.
The dog menace is not a new thing in the Valley. The concerned authorities have miserably failed to put an end to this menace here. In 2011, after a survey report from the State Health Department revealed astonishing figures about the dog bites in the Valley, we, under the banner of the Valley Citizens’ Council (VCC), started a campaign against the dog menace.
To bring authorities out of slumber, we staged several protest demonstrations on Srinagar streets. 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. He had received more than 100 bruises on his body. He went into coma for many days. In 2013, an infant fell 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 the 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 womenfolk 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.
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 present 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.
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.
The recent dog biting incident on boulevard road in Dalgate has not been reported in a proper context. The information that we gathered from the eyewitnesses after we went to the spot, the next day, confirms that it was not a group of dogs, but a single dog who got aggressive and bit a few people. This particular female dog’s pups were run over by a vehicle and only one pup survived after which dog was under stress and was chasing vehicles on the street. The same dog was first beaten by sticks and chased to different location by some locals. They subjected it to brutality and humiliation and eventually, it reacted aggressively.
We must understand that stray animals have particular psychology and behaviour towards humans. In most cases, they only react aggressively if they are subjected to cruelty. Those who are talking about ‘curbing’ the stray dogs must know that this planet belongs to everyone who lives on it. The 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. Recently, I was surprised to hear from an official of a civic body that stray dogs should be deprived of the food on the streets and localities. Even dustbins have been kept with lids, thus no food avaliblity for these stray animals. Where would they go? It is astonishing that we are hell-bent to deprive them leftovers and wasted food. Do you want to kill these animals by starving? In that case, why would they not be more aggressive when they find no food around human populations?
Well cared, systematic plan and human way of stray birth control plus well fed stray animals means less aggression and minimum animal human conflict. 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. We need to adopt a strategic approach that ensures that both humans and animals are safe. 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!