Sterilising canines and a proper civic waste disposal system is the only proven and legal way to avoid the man-dog conflict, says Lisa Warden
ROADWAY DOGS discovered stockpiling WMDs in derelict Srinagar warehouse! Such an outlandish claim as this would serve the interests of a disinformation campaign worthy of George W Bush in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, as does much of the inflammatory rhetoric in Baba Umar’s article, Who Let the Dogs Out? (TEHELKA, 18 February 2012). In the Kashmir case, though, substitute the Valley’s canines with Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, and let the liquidation of the enemy begin. Getting a handle on Kashmir’s canine woes, and those in India’s other cities for that matter, requires more than a regurgitation of the stock ‘dog menace’ clichés characteristic of India’s tabloid press.
Even dog-worshipping misanthropes agree that the dog attack on 12-year-old Srinagar resident Mudasir Ahmad Wangnoo was brutal and tragic. The issue, though, is where to attribute blame, and what to do about it. If one accepts the allegations in Umar’s article, Kashmir’s dogs are tearing apart the Valley’s residents with monotonous regularity all because India’s animal welfare activists have prevented their killing by authorities. He quotes scaremongering sources who claim that, for example, there will soon be more dogs than people in Srinagar, and that one female dog will give birth to 80,000 offspring in her lifetime. This sensationalism only obfuscates the issue. Let’s get a few facts straight.
First, dogs will never outnumber humans in Srinagar. Their population is relative to and dependent upon the human population, and will always be in keeping with the dog-to-human ratio found in the rest of India — between one and five dogs to every 100 people. Secondly, Indian dogs only produce one litter per year, not two. Third, the average life expectancy of street dogs in urban India, of dogs who survive to the age of one year, is 3.4 years (not 14-16 years as cited in the article). Only one or two puppies per litter actually survive in places where the habitat is at full carrying capacity. Each habitat has a maximum number of dogs it can support — which brings us to the question: why are there so many dogs in Srinagar? The answer is edible waste, and failure to implement WHO/AWBI-sanctioned methods for dog population and rabies control.
Last time I checked, public sanitation/waste disposal and public health were the responsibility of the government. The call for resumption of mass-killing of dogs in Srinagar is a knee-jerk reaction in response to nothing other than negligent governance.
Killing dogs, or their incarceration in pounds, simply does not work as a population-control policy. It has never worked anywhere it has been undertaken, even when the numbers of dogs killed or removed are in the tens of thousands, because dogs are so fertile that they simply repopulate the existing habitat in the subsequent breeding season. As long as there is a habitat, there will be dogs. And as long as that habitat is meat offal, dogs will be more aggressive in protecting their food source than if it were, say, dal and chapatis.
There is a solution to Kashmir’s canine woes, and it is as follows: sterilisation of over 70 percent of free-roaming dogs (and not just a small pilot project), and waste disposal reform. This is the only scientifically proven approach to resolving the matter, and the only legal one.
Are sterilised dogs ever a menace? On occasion, and those that engage in unprovoked attacks on humans need to be removed from the population by people qualified to know the difference. However, the two most significant factors that result in dog bites — migration and mating — are actually exacerbated by killing and/or impounding of dogs, and/or failing at the sterilisation project.
Sterilisation drastically reduces incidences of dog bites by eliminating maternal aggression and fights during mating. It also reduces the number of dogs. Are Kashmir’s various municipal authorities going to get on with addressing the problem by cleaning up the ubiquitous slaughter waste and sterilising over 70 percent of the dogs — a task for which various groups and agencies have bent over backwards to offer assistance, by the way — or will they continue scapegoating dogs and animal activists in a disingenuous attempt to cover up their own shambolic governance, while leaving residents, like 12-year-old Wangnoo and his family, to pay the price?
Lisa Warden is the former director of ABC India, a trust dedicated to rabies eradication and dog population management.