Author : Ramanath Jha

Expert Speak Urban Futures
Published on Nov 06, 2019
Rejigging India’s street dog policy

India’s street dog policy has reached a stage where it has split the population into two warring camps. There are those who are passionate dog lovers and others who are cross with the direction the policy on street dogs has taken. Both groups are unwilling to look at the issue impassively and apply themselves to the problem with cool minds. This article is an attempt to assess the issue dispassionately and suggest correctives.

India’s current street dog policy is the combined consequence of the Constitution, legislation, court rulings and policy recommendations. While the Constitution (Part IVA: Fundamental Duties, 51A (g)) lists “compassion for living creatures” as a fundamental duty of the citizens, the Twelfth Schedule (Article 243W) enjoins municipalities to undertake the regulation of slaughterhouses and tanneries. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, makes cruelty to animals punishable with fine that may extend to imprisonment. The Animal Welfare Board of India has laid down a policy that advises compassion and care in regard to dogs and pets. The Supreme Court has also been seized of the matter. Its overall view is that a sterilisation programme should be vigorously pursued. In case of great menace, dogs should be taken to shelter homes and if there is no way out, they have to be culled and not killed.

The overall result has been that India has the distinction of possessing the largest street dog population on earth and the largest number of rabies deaths in the world. “No country has as many stray dogs as India, and no country suffers as much from them” was how a prominent global newspaper described the situation. Mumbai alone counted more than 100,000 street dogs. In Kolkata, NGOs put the street dog number as more than 80,000.  This number is constantly rising.  In Vijayawada, there are around 16,000 stray dogs and here again the number is growing. This is the situation in almost all towns and cities in India.

In this regard, the most evolved policies are found in the western world. Very large numbers of people in those countries are great dog lovers, own by far the largest number of pets and have pampered them with comfort that almost equate them to human babies. These comprise toys for dog play, winter clothing, soaps and shampoo, dog-friendly beaches, dog parks, and places in trains and restaurants. This fascination with pets has generated a huge range of businesses to satisfy the needs of dog lovers. However, they are quite clear that there is no place for dogs on the streets. Dogs must be owned or should be taken away from the roads and confined in dog pounds. 

The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated that 3.3 million dogs are admitted to shelters operated by welfare agencies and municipal governments, and 670,000 dogs are euthanized annually. A 2010 study in the United Kingdom, revealed 121,693 dogs were admitted to animal welfare organisations and 10.4 percent were euthanized. In Australia, as per some estimates, around 250,000 healthy but unwanted dogs and cats are put to sleep in Australian municipal pounds each year.

The management of stray and surrendered dogs and cats has a high socio-economic cost. In the United Kingdom, expenditure by animal welfare organisations was £340 million in 2010 and £57.5 million was spent by local authorities in 2011. In Australia in 2004, the cost of managing stray and surrendered animals was estimated to be $263 million annually. Of this, $83 million were spent by municipal council pounds and $180 million in welfare shelters. It is evident that these municipalities have not provided unlimited amounts for the upkeep of stray/street dogs and at the end of the day have to put them to sleep.

At the other extreme are countries that have not found it necessary to pass laws for animal protection and compassion. China does not have a nation-wide law that unequivocally prohibits the ill-treatment of animals. Past attempts at a comprehensive animal protection law have not succeeded. It also figures among the more than dozen countries of the world where dog meat is eaten.

In India, the need for a sterilisation programme that cities were advised to undertake was based on the ultimate objective of reducing and eliminating street dogs. It is quite obvious that this sterilisation programme has not significantly succeeded in its objective anywhere in the country. This is not surprising, because it has similarly failed to achieve good results even in the western countries. High human deaths due to rabies and incidents of dog bites have been reported from a large number of Indian cities. There is evidence that in certain areas of cities, the menace of street dogs is large, leading to an atmosphere of tension and fear in the minds of the people.

Moreover, the costs of sterilisation programme are high. Mumbai has a layout of ₹156 million; but all cities in India cannot afford this kind of money. Neither can the NGOs. Of the 12 that were active in Mumbai in the Animal Birth Control Programme, almost half of them have shut shop and the total sterilisation that stood at 36,990 in 2008 has dwindled to a few thousand in 2019. Since the dogs are released after sterilisation back on to the streets, their overall numbers do not seem to have gone down. Mumbai had reported that between 1994 and 2015, about 1.3 million people had been bitten by street dogs and 434 people had died. While Mumbai recorded no deaths due to rabies in 2018, dog bites jumped from 33,801 in 1994 to 1,01,138 in 2018. However, deaths outside and in the close proximity of Mumbai rose from 14 in 2005 to 2,628 in 2018.

In such a situation, a multi-pronged strategy needs to be adopted. The first is a clear agreement that for a host of reasons, it is best that cities do not have dogs roaming on the streets. Among the reasons, the most prominent are indiscriminate litter, ambushing, attacking and biting humans, particularly the old and the children, and intense barking, especially during nights. In view of the nationwide cleanliness programme, it is in the interest of a city’s cleanliness that dogs are not free to roam the streets since it is impossible to control the place of defecation by street dogs.

Coupled with other serious nuisance, it makes sense that city authorities round up such dogs and take them to municipal dog pounds or dog shelters run by other organisations. Dog lovers and NGOs working in the field of dog care as well as other citizens may be encouraged to adopt dogs and take them under their care and shelter. A city should assess its ability regarding the number of dogs that it can reasonably take care of in municipal pounds. The others would perforce have to be euthanized. This is the position the greatest dog-loving countries have accepted after much deliberation and experimentation and seems the best combination of compassion and pragmatism.

If such a position is not taken, there would be others like Shimon Peres, that would find India being the only country in the world to have stray canines roam around free in packed urban areas. Some Indians may interpret this as civilisational kindness, but the statement was aimed at the profound absurdity of the situation.

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Ramanath Jha

Ramanath Jha

Dr. Ramanath Jha is Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. He works on urbanisation — urban sustainability, urban governance and urban planning. Dr. Jha belongs ...

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