Goa has a stray dog problem. Kerala has a stray dog problem. The whole of India has a stray dog problem. And there doesn’t seem to be any solution in sight.
India is home to nearly 60 million stray dogs, and 36 per cent of global deaths are due to rabies. These two figures should bring home the extent of the problem.
In Goa alone, about 11,500 persons were bitten by dogs in the first four months of this year. On average, about 22,000 dog bites are reported every year, except for 2019 and 2020, when the number fell to around 9,500 due to the pandemic. Goa’s only blessing is that the state is rabies-free.
There was a time when the stray dog population was culled with a bullet and a gun. This cruel method was eventually discontinued and replaced by sterilisation, which was touted as the proverbial silver bullet. Sadly, this has not worked. Stray dog feeders would probably say, “It’s complicated.”
The general population (people, that is) is a mixture of animal lovers, dog feeders and the rest who think stray dogs need to be got rid of, by any means possible. The intentions and machinations of the last group have been constrained by several laws which aim at preventing cruelty towards animals.
The question is, at what point in time did man’s best friend become his worst enemy?
Well, dogs by nature are complicated. According to dog trainers, if the dogs are not fed, they start scavenging for food, and if they don’t get it, they tend to attack humans. So ideally, feeding strays should resolve the problem. It does not.
When strays are fed in the same place every day, they are happy. But, then they turn territorial and any moving object that enters their territory, humans or vehicles, is attacked. Can’t blame them, they are protecting their food source, just like we do.
So what’s the solution?
There is no silver bullet, but we do have solutions, mostly long-term. Sterilisation still spearheads the effort to reduce strays, while proper feeding is supportive. For these to work, government, NGO and community participation is a crucial requirement.
Sadly, most governments – state, central and local, cannot get their act together. If one were to compare the reaction to Covid-19 and the effort to contain strays, the latter is nowhere near the level of organisation and determination required to tackle the problem.
Simply put, the issue of stray dogs is not considered important enough by governments. Hence, the levels of enthusiasm are low and the buck is generally passed to NGOs, minus the funds.
When it comes to sterilisation, one of the problems is catching strays. This is a difficult task, and since tranquilliser shots are super expensive, the only method is the use of a net and a dog catcher with stamina and great legs. As a result, only a few of the dogs in the pack are caught and sterilised. And the problem continues.
As far as the feeding goes, dog trainers advise feeders to put food about a kilometre away from the place where the pack is located, preferably in a non-residential area.
Most people will walk 3 to 5 km for fitness, but they will not do this for a pack of dogs because their commitment is to the animal, not the community.
Truth be told, there are solutions. But, as long as governments show little or sporadic interest, this problem is not going away.