Recent discourse at the national level on stray dogs and the issues faced by residents has brought the spotlight on Animal Birth Control (ABC) programmes in cities. ABC is an effective way to keep the population of stray dogs in check while also ensuring that harmful diseases like rabies are kept at bay. ABC procedures also help dogs to lead a longer and healthier life and reduce human-animal conflicts.
The ABC centres in Chennai are operated with the aim to regulate the street dog population by sterilising and vaccinating them.
Rules that govern ABC
Before we dive into how ABC centres work in Chennai, it is vital to look at the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Rules, 2001 (amended in 2010), given by the Union Ministry of Culture. These rules are the pole star of all ABC procedures across India, including Chennai.
A glimpse into India’s ABC Rules
- Rule 3(3) mandates the sterilisation and immunisation of street dogs with the help of animal welfare organisations, private individuals and the local authority.” “Local authority” means Greater Chennai Corporation, in the city’s context.
- Rule 4 talks about the formation of a monitoring committee with stakeholders ranging from Corporation officials, veterinary doctor, and other animal enthusiasts from Civil Society Organisations. This committee monitors the running of the ABC programme, including getting a survey of dogs done. Chennai also has an ABC monitoring committee.
- Rule 7 mentions that if a dog is captured in an area, then they must be released in the same area.
Pre-ABC era in Chennai
Until 1996, the city corporation used to catch and kill street dogs by shooting or electrocuting them or using lethal drugs. Whenever the corporation used to get complaints about feral dogs, they took action by killing the dogs.
But this strategy could not stem the street-dog population. In fact, it backfired by increasing the life expectancy of dogs. This was because there were more resources for a smaller dog population.
In 1964, the Blue Cross of India (BCI) introduced the ABC programme, which proposed catching, sterilising and vaccinating dogs. Today, we follow this procedure.
Present ABC facilities in Chennai
Currently, Chennai has three Animal Birth Control Centres, in Kannammapet in T Nagar, Lloyds Road and Basin Bridge Road in Pulianthope. “The one in Kannammapet caters to the zones in Central Chennai and North Chennai zone dogs go to the ABC in Pulianthope, and the rest go to Lloyds Road,” says Dr. J Kamal Hussain, the veterinary officer of Greater Chennai Corporation. “Lloyds Road ABC has been closed temporarily for a week for renovation. Moreover, we are also sending dogs from zones 7, 11, 13 and 14 to BCI.”
The veterinary officer lists the ABC facilities that are available in Chennai:
- GCC has 16 dog-catching vehicles, one for each zone, plus an extra vehicle.
- Each dog-catching vehicle has five dog-catchers, who will catch the dogs using butterfly nets.
- Pulianthope ABC has 16 dog kennels, Kannammapet ABC has 8 large kennels, and the one in Lloyds Road has 26 kennels.
- Each ABC has a surgeon, a veterinary doctor and eight workers.
- Each ABC has its own instruments required for surgeries in the operation theatres.
- Medicines come from Tamil Nadu Medical Service Corporation
Two new Animal Birth Control Centres are set to open in Sholinganallur and Meenambakkam in Chennai. “They will be opened in another three weeks, after the GCC Commissioner decides the date,” says Dr. Kamal. “Sholinganallur ABC will have 10 kennels, and the one in Meenambakkam will have 14 kennels.”
“Currently, there are only group kennels in GCC’s ABCs with seven to eight dogs in each kennel. We are revamping the centres to have individual kennels. Rs 20 crores have been allotted for the same, and the work will be done in a year. But Sholinganallur and Meenambakkam ABCs will have group kennels only,” says Dr Kamal.
ABC process explained
Catching: “Every day, each dog-catching team must catch five to seven dogs, based on public complaints. We attend to those complaints within 24 hours,” says Dr. Kamal. The dog-catcher notes the address from where a dog is caught, apart from recording the colour, sex and identification marks of the dog. The dog also gets a token to indicate which zone it comes from. “Each zone has a different colour for easy identification. After the surgery, these records will help the catcher release the dog in the area it came from.”
Preoperative care: “We do the sterilisation surgery only after a day after a dog is caught. We keep it for observation for assessing temperature and mucus membranes,” says Dr Kamal. Change in mucus membrane colour is used to detect if the dog has any disease. “But we do not have blood analysers [in the ABCs] at the moment. We plan to install them along with cell counters in the existing and new ABCs.”
These tests are done to see if the dog does not have any infections or deficiencies and is fit for the surgery. “If there are any major issues during physical examination, we do not do the surgery. For instance, we verify if there are any natural discharges externally,” says Dr. Kamal.
On a visit to the Kannammapet centre in Chennai it was observed that kennels were washed recently, although a foul smell was emanating from them. Each kennel had seven to four dogs. Sterilised dogs and unsterilised dogs were in different kennels, as per the ABC Rules. The pregnant female dogs were housed in separate cages.
“Post delivery only we will do the surgery,” says a worker of Kannammapet ABC.
Sterilisation and vaccination: Male dogs are castrated and females are spayed. “Male dogs take around four days to heal, while female dogs take from five to seven days to heal from the surgery,” says Dr. Kamal. Post the sterilisation, the anti-rabies vaccine is given. “Even if the dog is unfit for surgery, we give it vaccine compulsorily to reduce rabies cases.”
If you find the right ear of a dog notched, then it means that it has been sterilised and vaccinated. “We cannot catch or relocate sterilised animals until they are proven to be ferocious,” says Dr. Kamal.
Monitoring Committee catalyses improvements in ABC in Chennai
As per Rule 4 of the Animal Birth Control (ABC) Rules, 2001 (amended in 2010), there should be a committee to monitor the ABC programme in Chennai, constituted by GCC. The committee oversees the ABC programme and suggests best practices for street dog welfare in Chennai.
“There are around 10 members in the committee including NGOs, GCC representatives and a BCI representative,” says Dr. Kamal, who is also a member of the Animal Birth Control Monitoring Committee.
“After our suggestion of using butterfly nets, which is a more humane way than the rope, it was implemented by GCC,” says Shruti Vinod Raj, a member of the monitoring committee and Tamil Nadu Animal Welfare Board. Initially, the rope was being used, which used to choke the dog’s neck.
“We have also implemented the committee’s suggestion on increasing the number of dog catchers from four to five in each zone,” says Dr Kamal. “On their recommendations, we have given the dog catchers protective gear and anti-rabies vaccine every year.” Apart from this, GCC also sensitises them on various aspects of dog-catching every three months.
“We also noted that the three ABC centres were not enough to control the street dog population in Chennai since the rate of birth of new dogs is much higher than what the current ABCs can handle. Two new ABC centres are going to come up, and we want two to three centres to come up every year to manage the growing dog population. In other words, within five years, there should be 12 [ABC] centres in Chennai,” says Shruti.
Lapses in the ABC programme in Chennai
In 2019, there were complaints that the ABC centres were maintained at a subpar level. “It has improved greatly. They are cleaner now with more food available for the dogs,” says Shruti.
But they need to increase the pace of ABC, says Shruti, to prevent rabies. “There must be over 2 lakh street dogs today because we would not have taken a count during the pandemic.”
“As of 2018, there were 57,366 dogs as per a survey done by GCC. If we project a 30% rise in the dog population, there must be 90,000 dogs now,” says Dr. Kamal.
The way preoperative care is done has also received flak from experts. “Without a blood test, it is not safe to do surgeries. We see the blood, haemoglobin and platelet counts. The minimum count of platelets for a dog to be fit for surgery is 2.5 to 5 lakhs. If it is lesser than that, then the dog could bleed out because the blood will not clot easily or experience breathlessness. So, to increase the platelet count, we give medicines to the dog before doing the surgery,” says Neeraja Venkateswaran, the Head of Operations of Besant Memorial Animal Dispensary (BMAD), a non-profit organisation that does ABC for animals, apart from animal rescue and rehabilitation.
“The operation theatre must have air-conditioning and no open windows and doors. I have heard that the operation theatres lack these in most places. If surgery happens in an unsterile environment, it will cause complications for the dog,” says Neeraja.
Group kennels also cause problems. “If there are multiple dogs from multiple areas, then cross-infection is bound to happen if they share the same bowl for water and food. Also, if they fight, then the stitches post surgeries will tear open,” says Neeraja.
Even though GCC insists on using butterfly nets to catch the dogs, there have been occasional instances of using the rope, note activists. “If you take such dogs being caught by snare ropes for surgery, and put them under sedation, they may even die, because of the amount of stress they may have gone through,” says Neeraja.
Dog catchers say that they can catch feral dogs only with rope, and that is also hard. “This is where community feeders must intervene and help catchers to bring the feral dog for ABC,” says Neeraja.
Community involvement can go a long way
Animal activists say that community feeders can be roped in for facilitating dog sterilisation and vaccination.
“In September, we had a meeting with animal activists. We have asked zonal offices to share a list of volunteers so that they can help when the dog catcher is trying to bring the dog to the ABC for sterilisation. But, not all zones have given that list,” says Dr. Kamal. “This will be very useful, and the volunteers can also identify all the ferocious dogs in their neighbourhoods.”
But not all public members want to cooperate in helping their street animals to get sterilised. “Some people do not understand that we have to release the dogs post sterilisation and vaccination in the same area. They ask us why we are bringing the dogs back, and we have to make residents aware,” says Dr. Kamal.
Dog catchers face the brunt of angry residents since they are tasked with returning the sterilised dogs. “Residents even ask us to leave the dogs elsewhere since they are ferocious. We try hard to convince them that it is the law of the land. Moreover, if we leave the dogs in another area, there may be a territorial conflict with the dogs already in the area. Also, this may heighten human-animal conflict,” says a dog catcher, who did not want to be named.
BMAD encourages community feeders in getting the neighbourhood dogs spayed or neutered. “Since the community feeders are already friendly and familiar with the dogs, they trust the feeders more. Without much hassle, these feeders can bring the dog for ABC,” says Neeraja. “Per month, we sterilise 200-250 dogs.”
With rabies cases being prevalent in Chennai, it is high time GCC accelerates, expands and improves its Animal Birth Control Programme. This will also ensure the good health of dogs, reduce the street dog population and decrease human-animal conflict.
If you have to get the dogs in your neighbourhood treated or sterilised and vaccinated, you can call 1913, or lodge a complaint via the Namma Chennai app.