In a country like India it is impossible to live without community animals. Our thoughts, culture and religion do not consider humans as mutually exclusive from community animals, which include cattle and stray dogs and cats. I reside in Chennai and am associated with People for Animals, an organisation working for the welfare and rights of street animals.
As animal caretakers, it is deeply saddening and horrific to witness an alarming number of cases of cruelty in our city and communities against street and pet animals. Often it does not stop there, but is in in fact extended to animal caretakers as well, who are at the receiving end of extreme harassment perpetrated by entire communities of people. Having built apartments in the natural habitat of the animals, now, many residents want the animals displaced at any cost, putting the lives and welfare of Chennai’s stray animals at risk.
What we fail to understand
Dogs are territorial animals and live as small groups in their own territories. They need to be fed at least once a day in order for them to gain trust. Once a dog starts trusting the human, they will never harm them and it becomes easy to get them to cooperate with vaccination and sterilisation.
Once they are vaccinated, sterilized and left in the same place they protect their territories and ensure new dogs do not come in. They act as guards for the community and also do a great service by controlling snake and rodent populations. A dog barking is a natural form of its expression and is by no means a threat to the lives of the people around.
Displacement of a stray dog from one area does not lead to reduction in the numbers, as there are high chances that a new dog unfamiliar with the people of the area may take its place causing tension.
Some incidents from Chennai
Chennai has on occasions seen tremendous cruelty meted out to strays, and stray dogs in particular. In a prominent township in Padur there have been complaints of harassment of those who have been feeding strays and also instances of poisoning of the dogs, so as to get the area rid of them. In Siruseri, we have come to know of similar harassment of those who feed strays and the removal of dogs from near the township. Similar reports have been received from Thalambur area as well.
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In OMR too there have been instances where stray dogs were stoned to death in an inhuman act. Those caring for such animals in Perungalathur area have faced the threat of killing or relocation of close to 200 dogs. Shocking incidents of brutality (such as that of hot oil being thrown on a dog in Thiruvanmiyur) have been on the rise.
In public spaces such as Anna Nagar Bus depot, the dogs and pups are removed and relocated to faraway places. In Nehru stadium, caring for stray dogs is discouraged and many dogs in the premises end up starving as a result.
What the law states on strays
- Article 51-A (G) of the constitution of India states that “it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.
- Section 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act makes all animal cruelty a criminal offence. Fines and imprisonment are both provided for. The Indian Penal code has similar provisions.
- The Honourable Supreme Court of India while passing judgement in Para 77 of the SLP (C) No 11686 of 2007 has declared that necessary steps have to be taken to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering on the animals, since their rights have been statutorily protected under Section 3 and 11 of the Prevention of Cruelty Act 1960.
- The Animal Birth Control (Dog) Rules 2001 provide for sterilisation and vaccination as a means of stabilising/reducing stray dog population and eliminating the risk of rabies. It prohibits relocation of stray dogs i.e throwing or driving them out of one area into another.
- Under Sec 506 of the IPC it is a crime to threaten, abuse or harass neighbours who feed animals. Killing/harming any animal including strays in any manner and preventing people from feeding them is a crime and a cognizable offence.
Despite the law of the land establishing the aforementioned rights and providing guidelines for the management of street animals, there is no respect for the same among many sections of society, especially the residents of large townships, apartments and gated communities.
We have the Constitution of India, Honourable Supreme Court and various High Courts of our country advocating strongly for the cause of the voiceless citizens and providing us guidance. Yet, there seems to be a complete collapse of our basic value system. The concepts of ahimsa and co-existence have become alien to our increasingly urbanised society.
A few pointers on caring for strays
On witnessing animal abuse: Get as much detail as possible about the abuse. Secure an eyewitness to the incident. Having photos or videos will be very helpful. File a complaint in the local police station giving all details. You can take the help of People for Animals Anti-Animal Cruelty team. Share the evidence along with contact details to firstname.lastname@example.org
Rules for feeding strays: Some guidelines from AWBI on feeding are as follows. Feeding strays must be undertaken at a time when there is minimal human population in the surrounding areas. Strays must be fed twice a day and not more unless the animal is ailing and needs more care. Feeding must be carried out in a hygienic manner with clean bowls for food and water. No littering must be done or feeding material left behind. Water bowls must be cleaned and refilled regularly.
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Dealing with aggressive animals: Dogs will not get aggressive if they are fed and taken care of in the manner prescribed by the Animal Welfare Board of India. However, if a particular dog shows abnormal behaviour, the regular feeder should consult and take the guidance of an animal welfare organisation who will be able to assist with a vet and recommend the appropriate action to be taken.
Finding reliable animal shelters: Blue Cross, BMAD and PFA Redhills are some of the old animal shelters in Chennai. They have a well established process and guidelines for admitting animals. There are also many young people who are starting small shelters now. It is advisable to check for due certifications from AWBI before admitting an animal into any new shelter.
Approaching authorities for help: In addition to gathering necessary evidence and documentation, multiple authorities and welfare organisations can be approached to help animals facing abuse. In Chennai, one can reach out to the local police, Animal Welfare Board of India offices, the Chennai Corporation and local animal right advocates and activists for assistance.
Before adopting a stray: Ensure you understand the commitments and responsibilities before adoption. It is like adding another family member. Take the animal to a vet for a thorough check-up and action on the recommendations by the vet if they are not already dewormed or vaccinated. Animal Birth Control to be performed as per the vet’s recommendations. Never ever decide to abandon the pet at any cost.
People need to open their hearts for a refreshing bit of change. All creation is equal. Humans do not own this world. COVID-19 has taught us the same. We are mere visitors on this planet and let us tread this journey gently and with kindness.
Care for street dogs is humane but the animal on the road is more a nuisance than a guardian. Barking and chasing the passers by, they add to the woes of residents and are an eyesore in the evolution of smart city. Right to their life is beyond debate but sheltering them far away from city limits in a separate place is recommended.