The Supreme Court has recommended sterilization or vaccination in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, as a solution to the growing problem of stray dogs. This, it felt, is a more humane and pragmatic approach
By Shailaja Paramathma
The Supreme Court of India has directed that sterilization or vaccination of stray dogs be carried out in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and the Animal Birth Control (Dogs) Rules, 2001. In the case—The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) vs the People for Elimination of Stray Troubles, the Court cited improper implementation as the “real problem”.
The Court held that it is the obligation of the Animal Welfare Board of India to oversee that the order is carried out. “It shall be the obligation of the Board to oversee that this is being carried out and no obstructions are created in this regard from any quarter.” It also warned that “no innovative method or subterfuge should be adopted not to carry out the responsibility… Any kind of laxity while carrying out statutory obligations is not countenanced in law.” It further directed the chief secretaries of states to send their reports pertaining to the implementation of the obligations within six weeks.
It is important to know that sterilization or neutering of dogs is the most effective way of controlling the stray population; it also makes room for a better relation between the human and the canine residents of a locality. Sterilization not only addresses the issue of high testosterone levels, it also checks dog fights that take place during mating time when these animals cross over into territories in search of a mate. As for the females, they are usually aggressive only when they are protecting their litter.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says on its website: “The single-most important thing that we can do to save cats and dogs from all the suffering and death that their overpopulation causes is to spay and neuter them. Spaying and neutering are routine, affordable surgeries that can prevent thousands of animals from being born, only to suffer and struggle to survive on the streets, be abused by cruel or neglectful people, or be euthanized in animal shelters for lack of a loving home.”
Following submission by senior counsel Shekhar Naphade regarding the working of the Board with the aid and assistance of animal welfare organizations, the Court said: “We are sure that the Board and the Animal Welfare Organization shall act within the parameters of the Act and the Rules.”
The role of NGOs in this scenario is of crucial importance as the Resident Welfare Associations can be in direct touch with them and signal the arrival of new and non-sterilized dogs or a sudden change in the behavior of a colony dog. They can also report any cruelty towards the animals.
A provision for NGOs has also been made in the 2001 Rules, and their partnership is important in contributing to public awareness, and the successful implementation of the dog control program.
Geeta Seshamani, vice-president of Friendicoes, an animal welfare NGO in Delhi, says: “The challenge we face is actually very simple. We want commitment from the civic authorities to the program, we want infrastructure to be created and given, but most importantly, we want the funding to be regular.”
The AWBI is struggling due to shortage of funds to rope in NGOs and animal welfare groups to implement the recently-approved National Rabies Control Pilot Project. So far only two NGOs have responded to the government tenders. Many NGOs working with the government withdrew because the basic cost of their work was not covered. Though the estimates vary, some surveys have put the Indian dog population as high as 25 million. Rounding up, sterilizing and vaccinating that many dogs is not just a statistical and financial challenge but also a test of community spirit and the government’s willingness.
The standard operating procedure for the sterilization of stray dogs under the Animal Birth Control (ABC) program is outlined in a 93-page document compiled by the AWBI, a statutory body under the Environment and Forests Ministry and is freely available online. This compilation lists everything, from surveying stray dogs, counting them, do’s and don’ts of capture, transportation, infrastructure of the birth control program, kennel management, operation procedure, pre and post-operative care, euthanasia and post-mortem.
It also lays down that the ABC and the Anti-Rabies Program are implemented in almost all the major metros of India and that over one lakh stray dogs are sterilized and vaccinated against rabies every year.
PROBLEM OF IMPLEMENTATION
The Court has noted: “In the course of hearing, we have been apprised that the real problem is the implementation of the Act and the Rules. Learned counsel for the parties very fairly stated that the litigation is not adversial, but the purpose is to see that the Acts and Rules are appositely implemented and the compassion to animals and the healthy existence of human beings are seemly balanced.”
Barring Chennai, Kalimpong, Jaipur, Ooty, Visakhapatnam, Mumbai, Bangalore, Tirupati, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Goa, most cities have not taken appropriate measures to implement the ABC program. The anti-rabies vaccination is administered at the same time. The health ministry has recently approved the implementation of a pilot project in Haryana for mass sterilization and vaccination of street dogs.
In September 2015, in Kannur district of Kerala, dog catchers hired by residents killed 40 stray dogs by allegedly injecting them with potassium cyanide.
Even though the authorities said that the villagers killed the dogs without their permission and as a reaction to a group of school kids being bitten, animal rights activists maintained it was impossible to kill them without the support of officials. The barbaric act led to a social media movement titled “Boycott Kerala”, intending to adversely affect tourism in the state.
Interestingly, Jaipur was one of the first cities to start an animal birth control program, based on WHO guidelines, back in 1994. An NGO called Help In Suffering, supported by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, the AWBI and the local authorities, launched the project there, which focused on sterilizing and vaccinating all female dogs.
Killing and/or culling of stray animals has been barred by the Supreme Court as it is not only inhumane but also a futile exercise in controlling their population. Dawn William, resident general manager of Blue Cross of India, an animal rights NGO, says: “Killing has never worked and never will. The ABC program is based on two immutable laws: The number of dogs in any area is directly proportional to the availability of food and nature abhors a vacuum.” He adds: “To control the dog population, solid waste management must be an integral part of the campaign. A knee-jerk reaction of killing some dogs will never work since the remaining dogs will multiply faster… Even killing all the dogs in one area will not work since dogs from other areas will migrate into areas where food is available.”
Geeta Seshamani agrees. She recounts the time when the killing of stray dogs in Delhi was a daily norm: “Friendicoes is old enough to have seen that horror. I have seen a mother with her puppies tied like a string around her neck having cold water thrown on her, and two live wires being held to her as she is thrown six feet up and down, feces flying all over, till everybody dies. I’m old enough to have seen it and I can tell you, doing away with that brutality was the best thing we could have ever done.”