A seven-month-old baby died early Tuesday after he was mauled by a stray dog in a posh gated colony in Noida, the tragedy adding fuel to the raging debate between animal rights activists and ‘others’ over accountability and how to curb what seems to be a growing problem.
As news spread and furious people gathered at the Lotus Boulevard society to protest the death of the baby, the son of construction workers who was attacked by a dog that entered the condominium, the oft-asked questions gained fresh urgency — who should be held responsible, what should be done and the implementation of rules and guidelines.
“Dogs bite only when threatened, or if it is their mating season, their territory is threatened, or if a dog has just delivered a litter. There is need for greater awareness and information about how to live with dogs, what are the dos and don’ts when the dog comes towards you,” Ambika Shukla of People For Animals told PTI.
“Don’t run, don’t scream, don’t jump. That will lead to a reaction. Simply stand still,” she added.
This argument does not hold for the baby, who was attacked on Monday and died in a hospital on Tuesday. It is only the latest incident to hit the headlines. In early September, a 12-year-old girl in Pathanamthitta, Kerala, died of rabies a month after being mauled by a dog. That same month, a video showing a teenage boy left with multiple injuries after being attacked by a stray was circulated widely on social media.
The latest incident – putting man’s best friend on the wrong side of popularity – has led to the divide between dog lovers and ‘stray nayers’ deepening.
However, all seem to agree on better implementation of laws and rules, primarily the Animal Birth Control (ABC) programme. Animal rights activists also suggest greater awareness and literacy among people to understand dog behaviour.
The Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules 2001, the Centre’s existing guidelines to manage the population of strays, do not talk about the issues of feeding dogs and how disputes over dog bites must be resolved.
To be able to better find solutions to these frequent points of conflict in urban areas, the Centre earlier this year proposed the Animal Birth Control Rules, 2022. Once finalised, these rules will replace the existing ones framed in 2001.
According to the draft, procedures have been prescribed for the immunisation, vaccination and sterilisation of dogs. It also proposes the formation of monitoring committees that will take steps to limit the population of strays in an area through animal birth control programmes.
Besides, an animal helpline will be set up by local authorities to resolve complaints of dog bites. The new rules will also address the role of resident welfare associations (RWAs) to end frequent conflicts between dog feeders and other residents.
According to Lok Sabha data, Delhi has 60,472 stray dogs as of 2019. There were at least 1.53 crore dogs in the streets of India till 2019, the Animal Husbandry ministry said in a parliament question.
Many thousands have been bitten by stray dogs across the country.
On an overcast monsoon day some 10 years ago, engineering professor Garima Singh was walking to her college in Ghaziabad when she came across two dogs fighting. As she tried to walk past them, one bit her in the leg. A painful experience, the memory of which has lasted since.
Every dog that Singh comes across now reminds her of the injections she had to get.
But why did the dog bite her, an innocent passerby? While Singh believes the dogs were wild and rabid, Ayesha Christina of Delhi-based NGO Neighbourhood Woof said an increased population of dogs in an area can also lead to confrontation among themselves as well as with people.
“There will be more fights for territory and resources like food, water and shelter. The unassuming victim of these fights can be people at times,” Christina said.
Her organisation works with municipal bodies in several Indian cities to sterilise street dogs, a responsibility she said is not taken seriously by authorities.
“Sometimes when a municipality picks up dogs for sterilisation they drop them anywhere, which is not the dog’s locality and then there is another chain of reaction from such dogs,” Christina alleged.
The task, she said, can only be done effectively if there is involvement of locals who know which dogs are aggressive, which one has delivered a litter and which are problematic.
It is not just the actions and involvement of ‘non-dog lovers’ that are responsible for the behaviour of strays. Dog lovers also have a role to play, said Aditi Badam of Posh Foundation, an animal shelter in Noida.
“…dog lovers do not take any responsibility for stray dogs apart from just feeding them leftovers. They don’t neuter them or even vaccinate them. Forget strays, in India, dog owners don’t even think it is their job to pick up poop from the streets and parks when they take their pets out on a walk,” Badam argued.
Badam’s sentiments were reflected in a Delhi High Court order last year, saying stray dogs have the right to food and citizens have the right to feed community canines.
It also observed that in exercising this, right care and caution should be taken to ensure that it does not impinge upon others and causes no harassment or nuisance.
The Supreme Court last month said “some solution has to be found” for the stray dog menace.
A balance has to be maintained between the safety of people and animal rights, the apex court said, suggesting that people who feed stray dogs could be made responsible for vaccinating them and bearing costs if somebody is attacked by the animal.
Christina explained that if followed through efficiently, guidelines for population control and immunisation will ensure ample resources for all canines.
As the debate intensifies with each incident of a dog attack, those with pet dogs also face the brunt.