One Bite Too Many

The Supreme Court recently observed that the death of an 11-year-old boy after he was mauled by a pack of stray dogs in Kannur was unfortunate. A vacation bench of Justices Surya Kant and MM Sundresh issued a notice to Kerala after a plea by the district panchayat of Kannur seeking the euthanising of suspected rabid and extremely dangerous dogs in a humane manner in the light of recent violent attacks by them.

The plea said: “It is pertinent to mention that 5,794 stray dog attacks were reported in 2019, as many as 3,951 cases in 2020, 7,927 cases in 2021, 11,776 cases in 2022 and 6,276 cases up to June 19, 2023, in the Kannur district itself. It is further submitted that there are approximately 28,000 stray dogs in the limits of the applicant herein.” It said the menace had continued despite every effort to control it.

The panchayat stated that incidents of stray dog attacks, bites and road accidents due to dog collisions were increasing day by day within the panchayat area as well as throughout the state. The application also argued that 65 ducks and a large number of domestic animals had been killed by violent stray dogs recently in the state. In the meantime, Kannur District Panchayat President PP Divya received death threats which appeared in a WhatsApp group of animal lovers. 

The interlocutory application was filed in a civil appeal filed challenging a Kerala High Court judgment of 2015. Last year, the Kerala government had made a similar request to the Supreme Court.

India has the highest number of attacks by stray dogs in the world. Last month, a seven-year-old boy was attacked and killed by stray dogs in Telangana’s Hanamkonda district on May 18. The incident took place near a children’s park in Kazipet’s Railway Colony. The boy tried to run but fell down when the dogs violently attacked and killed him on the spot.

The death of two siblings in Delhi’s Vasant Kunj after being attacked by stray dogs in March, the mauling of a 4-year-old in Hyderabad and the killing of a sleeping baby in a Rajasthan hospital by a stray dog in February have sparked discussions on how to control this menace.

India reported nearly 16 million cases of stray dog bites between 2019 and 2022 (Parliament data till November 2022), an average of over 10,000 cases daily. The National Rabies Control Programme reported 6,644 clinically suspected cases and deaths of human rabies between 2012 and 2022. Between January and October 2022, Kerala and Punjab reported over 10,000 cases of dog bites each, while Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kashmir reported between 1,000 and 10,000 cases. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 4,146 reported cases of dog bites leading to human deaths in India in 2019.

According to a report in The Lancet, concerns have been raised about the mismanagement of street dogs in terms of disruption in vaccination and birth control activities during the Covid lockdown. In India, an increase in aggression among dogs has been observed post-pandemic, probably due to food shortages, abandonment of pets and a decrease in human-dog interaction.

According to experts, feeding street dogs every day makes them insecure and aware of their territory and space, which they try to protect from other dogs and people.

The centre is doing all it can to combat this problem. Municipalities are in charge of sterilising and immunising stray dogs in accordance with the Animal Birth Manage (Dogs) Rules, 2001 to manage their numbers. But sometimes it becomes difficult even for local authorities to work properly, as some animal feeders don’t let this happen. But they fail to understand that by not doing this, the problem might escalate. If people are feeding them, then they should also ensure that the dogs are vaccinated. Societies should organise seminars and programmes where qualified dog trainers come and educate people about dog behaviour as a way to prevent such tragic incidents. 

—By Abhilash Kumar Singh and India Legal Bureau